South Sudanese refugee artist wins EU sponsored COVID-19 art competition

Kuena James Dak, 24, is the winner of a stop-motion animation contest on COVID-19 awareness in Uganda.

Uganda. Refugee artist wins Covid art contest

South Sudanese refugee Kuena James Dak shows off one of the posters he made to spread COVID-19 safety messages in Uganda.  © UNHCR staff

Kuena James Dak, 24, is the winner of an animation contest on COVID-19 awareness that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, together with Artolution organized in Uganda. The contest engaged refugees in a campaign to promote messages of pandemic safety to the communities by tapping into their talents.

Dak submitted a short animation video to promote social distancing, using pencils and plasticine. As the winner of the competition launched in mid-2020 in partnership with the European Union, he received a mobile phone, a tripod stand and mobile data to be able to connect to the internet.

“The prize will help me improve my filming and research on new concepts,” he said.

Dak is a South Sudanese refugee, living in Bidibidi – the largest refugee settlement in Africa. When his mother and seven siblings fled to Uganda in 2015, Dak decided to stay behind to finish his lower secondary school education. He joined his family in 2018, following his father’s death.

He is currently enrolled in an online course on cybersecurity.

“The prize will help me improve my filming and research on new concepts.”

“I wish to university one day to acquire advanced skills and become a certified cybersecurity specialist,” he said.

To qualify for university, he requires two additional years at a Ugandan secondary school but he doesn't have enough money to cover the tuition fees.

  • Keuna James Dak (left) receives a phone and a tripod stand from a UNHCR staff in Bidibidi refugee settlement, as the winner of the EU COVID-19 art competition in Uganda.
    Keuna James Dak (left) receives a phone and a tripod stand from a UNHCR staff in Bidibidi refugee settlement, as the winner of the EU COVID-19 art competition in Uganda. © UNHCR/Friday Lomoro
  • South Sudanese refugee artist Kuena James Dak's poster portraying services for refugees in Uganda's Bidibidi settlement during the COVID-19 crisis.
    South Sudanese refugee artist Kuena James Dak's poster portraying services for refugees in Uganda's Bidibidi settlement during the COVID-19 crisis. © UNHCR/Kuena James Dak.

Dak does not sit idle though and is always looking for opportunities to develop and pursue his dream. In July 2018, he worked with Real Medicine Foundation as a Village Health Team (VHT) volunteer, joining efforts to spread messages about infection prevention and control. Last year, he joined War Child Holland to design a programme aimed at providing psychosocial support to children through games.

“In my free time, I do graphic design, not just for fun, but to earn an income,” he said.

Last year, he saved some money and bought a second-hand computer to improve his graphic design skills. He is also an amateur film director and scriptwriter.

“The pandemic has had many negative impacts on the refugee population in Uganda,” explains Isabelle D’Haudt, Head of the European Union Humanitarian Aid Office in Kampala. “With this project, we are helping to harness and promote the many artistic talents amongst refugees, so they can help us spread messages of infection prevention and control in order to protect us all from the disease.”

According to Joel Boutroue, UNHCR Representative to Uganda, the pandemic has created many challenges but also opportunities.

“ECHO’s ongoing support has been crucial to address the most critical needs of refugees and enhance COVID-19 preparedness and safety messages,” said Boutroue. “Art is central to humanity. Dak and all the contestants demonstrated the power of art and true leadership in an awareness campaign to the benefit of their community.”

Uganda hosts over 1.4 million refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 40,294 Ugandans and 397 refugees have tested positive, with a total of 334 Ugandans and 7 refugees succumbing to the virus, according to the Ministry of Health.

In 2020, the European Union granted EUR 6.5 million in humanitarian funding to UNHCR in Uganda, to improve their reception capacity, registration, primary health care, prevention and response to disease outbreaks, including COVID-19.