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The Ugandan Refugee Story Is One Of Survival Against All Odds
Raymond Mujuni
Posted: 8 months 2 weeks

I was asked by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund to moderate one of the six side events at the World’s first Solidarity Summit held between June 22-to 23 in Kampala.

It was the first time countries across the globe were gathering in solidarity with Uganda for hosting Africa’s biggest number of refugees - 1.2 million then.  So important was the meeting that it was graced by the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Gutteres and various heads of state.

I had, myself, been to the refugee settlements.I had seen the faces. The hope. The initiative. The sheer determination to succeed against all odds.

In Palorinya refugee settlement  where I spent a day, I’d come across refugee teachers who’d come together with the few books they had been able to run away with from South Sudan and started a school under the trees in the camp.  The school was teaching about 200 refugee children from a country where 70% of those aged 6-17 have never set foot in a classroom.

In Bidibidi, the world’s largest refugee settlement, volunteers had stacked up in MSF centres helping out with translation to ease access to health services by refugees from a  country where the health system had been reduced to its knees due to conflict.

In my room of conversations at the side event, one of the young refugees - 59% of refugees are young people- had turned round her fortunes and started a hotel in her refugee settlement that sought to employ girls and put some money in their pockets.

UNFPA had chosen to make their side event, thankfully, about how young people could be used as an asset for sustainable - and more importantly - inclusive development of the refugee hosting communities.

While focus had been placed on finding solutions to the refugee crisis, what certainly couldn’t escape mention was that a bloody civil war over a political disagreement for which young people had little input had kept many of them from pursuing their dreams.

But now that the conflict had happened, and about 950,652 people had fled the country, majority young people, and in the face of strain in refugee response aid, what could the young people contribute to their community? What more could they do to grow the host communities on whom the pressure of hosting had been inserted?

It was initiative from young people like the ones who volunteered to teach refugee children under trees, the volunteer translators at the health centres, the young women running a successful business in the settlement that mattered.

And to produce that, many of the panelists at the side event agreed that young people needed training that goes beyond giving skills but also addresses issues of mindset.

Their health concerns, particularly the mental and psychological concerns of post conflict situations  needed to be addressed. Access to reproductive health education to avoid both unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases needed to be provided.

All this needed to be done in solidarity with a community that had already proved ability to succeed even when the odds of war and displacement were stacked against them. 

--Mujuni Raymond is a Ugandan journalist with NTV Uganda and blogger.