The Resilience of Young Urban Refugees in Uganda

In January 2022, The Peace Centre trained 30 young urban refugees living in Uganda from Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan on leadership and peacebuilding. The training aimed to promote young urban refugee women and GBV survivors’ leadership in peace-building processes by equipping them with skills and knowledge to fully understand the policy frameworks, design messages, identify opportunities for influencing and plan the next steps in their advocacy.

The following are documented stories of some of the participants of the training and how they have been impacted over time. Here they also share experiences and challenges regarding settling in Uganda. All names used in these stories are pseudonyms.

SALMA

I am the Director of ‘Stand Up and Shine Foundation’, an initiative established to help refugees in my community. As a source of income, I operate a bakery and a tailoring shop. In my community, there have been multiple cases of gender-based violence some of which get to be reported and others that never make it to the light. These to mention but a few include; employers abusing their employees, stepfathers raping their stepdaughters and mothers forcing their children into prostitution in order to secure some income for the family.

On multiple occasions, I have had to intervene in these cases by reporting them to village leaders as well as the Police. However, without much reliance on the police that ‘continues to fail us, I offer counselling and guidance to girls and young women refugees that have been victims of societal vices like gender-based violence. Similarly, I offer training in tailoring and baking skills to these victim girls and young women to help them get their lives back on track.

As a result of the peacebuilding training, I am more informed of my rights as a refugee- what is acceptable and non-acceptable to me, how I can participate in decision-making as a woman and I am more aware of the different ways to defend myself. With this, therefore, I have gone ahead to train other fellow refugees on how to foster peace in their homes and the community at large.

Also, as part of my training lessons, I have mastered the skill of looking for opportunities to better myself in all spheres of life. This has been very instrumental to the growth of my business as I wake every morning with a vision of meeting new people and finding new opportunities.

I hope to see my community change for the better. I desire an establishment of a major training Centre where refugees can be trained in various skills such as English, computer and social skills, baking, cooking and many more that can help them live a decent life even while in a foreign country.

JEANNE

“I had suicidal thoughts at a certain point of my life but that well-being session made me look at life differently thereafter.” Jeanne is a 40 yr old Congolese refugee leader in Kitebi, an area she has been living in for the last 12 yrs since she arrived in Uganda.

Upon learning about mental wellness in the training, I was encouraged to embrace my life as one that is precious and needs to be taken care of. I was also encouraged to stay true to myself, keep positive and be hopeful in all situations.

Today, I am very passionate about mental wellness seeing that many refugees suffer from a lot of stress-related issues but have no knowledge of how to deal with them. I have made it my sole responsibility to sensitize people about taking care of their mental health in my community.

I have since embraced writing as a form of therapy helping me deal with unresolved feelings in my heart rather than bottling them up within. This has helped me remain strong even in the most difficult situations.

Through the writing process, I also encourage my fellow refugees to write down their experiences. ‘This has helped them express their feelings.  Above all, I encourage them to be grateful for having Life because with the life they have hope for a better future.

I have also engaged with refugees in some of the settlements where I was taken to work as a volunteer, at the hospital.

I take a keen interest in interacting with women and girls who are victims of gender-based violence in the community. I help them look at life as an always-changing process with both good and bad things happening but one ought to be open-minded at all times.

In cases of rape or defilement, I mobilize colleagues to help victim girls by seeking medical attention from health centres as well as carrying out check-ups, the survivors are introduced to pep treatment while it’s still early and then we report the cases to the persons responsible especially village leaders and Police.

The latter however hasn’t yielded much success as they are not many refugee cases reported in the community that are taken seriously.

I reported a case of a 16-year-old girl that was defiled and became pregnant. Upon giving birth, she was denied a birth certificate from the hospital because of failure to provide evidence for the identity of the baby’s father. When the case was reported to the Police, no help was rendered to the young lady to date.

According to Jeanne, many refugees’ needs are neglected in the communities they live in which makes it harder for them to heal from the trauma of war they faced in their home countries.

“I want to see that my people can sustain themselves, that they have hope to eat, sleep peacefully, can be able to go to hospital and be attended to.”- Jeanne said, “this is the only way I will be fully content as a leader”.

EBONY

Ebony is a Congolese refugee leader heading a saving group for refugees in Najjanankumbi. According to her, this group was formed with an aim of ‘chasing’ poverty amongst refugees so they can all have a better chance at life.

Through the Peace Centre training, Ebony has since become an effective leader in her community; She has learnt how to deal with people, especially when addressing community problems.

For instance, in cases of domestic violence, she mobilizes committee leaders of the group to collect money to buy foodstuffs, sugar, soap, and other home utilities that they carry to the victims’ homes to help settle the matter. With this, they then go ahead to advise the couple against domestic violence and its dangers.

However, due to COVID-19, there have been spiralled numbers of teenage pregnancies and domestic violence cases in the community. These have unfortunately slowed down  the response rate of individuals in addressing these matters. Ebony associates these escalated problems with the high poverty levels of people to the point where husbands now beat their wives over very small matters.

“Hunger is making people do what they are not supposed to do; people end up fighting when they are hungry and everything annoys them.”

Through her savings program, Ebony was able to open a mini supermarket as a source of income to sustain her family. In return, she was able to help other refugees with relief, especially in form of food for those that were in desperate need of help.

Regrettably, the supermarket has been closed down due to the failure of paying up the accumulated rent dues that were a result of the Covid-19 Lockdown.

‘It hasn’t been easy since,’ She said, as most members of the group don’t attend meetings anymore. ‘There’s nothing in it for them so they would rather go look for food elsewhere to feed their families.’

Among many things, Ebony is grateful for the training session on wellness as she is using the skills acquired to withstand stress and keep sane even in the hardest of times. She maintains strong courage with the hope that things will get better soon.

She continues to encourage girls and young women that are victims of gender-based violence to keep holding on and not give up while assisting them in any way she’s able to.

Ebony believes that with the necessary assistance, refugees can be able to put their skills and creativity to proper use. That is to say; when they are trained, they should be supported a step further with capital to get their businesses running. Otherwise, without support like that, most of them end up failing to even start.

Women at the Forefront of Conflict Resolution

While powerful gains have been made in the field of Women, Peace and Security at a broader level with an increase in the number of women in politics and governance alongside the national policies and laws, it is still vital to focus on women leaders in religious, cultural and civil society spaces while acknowledging the peacebuilding realities women are navigating through.

Read More “Women at the Forefront of Conflict Resolution”

Maximising Youth Potential in Peacebuilding Processes

In Uganda, more than 78% of the population is below the age of 30. These represent an enormous untapped potential that can significantly contribute to the country’s political and social development if they are actively involved in influencing, shaping, designing and contributing to policy formulation and development processes. That being said, it is critical that youth inclusively participate in peacebuilding processes to ensure sustainable and inclusive peace.

Read More “Maximising Youth Potential in Peacebuilding Processes”

Meet Our Alumni: Alice Emasu Seruyange

Alice Emasu Seruyange is an outstanding journalist, media guru who is passionate about gender equality and social justice in Uganda. She is the founder of The Association for the Rehabilitation and Re-orientation of Women for Development (TERREWODE) a non-government organization with the vision of Empowered women and girls embracing the world with improved livelihoods and an Alumni of the Peace Centre’s feminist institute.

After her participation in the Feminist Institute, Alice continued with heightened commitment to support women affected by fistulae to promote social justice.  Obstetric fistula (incl. vesicovaginal and recto-vaginal fistula) is present in conflict settings but remains neglected due to its complicated and stigmatic nature. Moreover, fistulae are characteristic of war-torn areas like the Teso sub-region in Uganda, the region that TERREWODE serves.

Given the high need for fistulae repairs in the post-conflict Teso sub-region, TERREWODE under the leadership of Alice has grown in capacity with highly professional staffing, an Executive Board of Directors, with a team of committed medical professionals.  Today, TERREWODE has a model institutional infrastructure to continually support the health, psychological and economic needs of women affected by fistulae. Alice shared that attending the Institute training broadened her initial dream of contributing to the transformation of the health systems to deliver for vulnerable women and girls including those suffering from the neglected Obstetric Fistula.

TERREWODE has supported over 800 women and girls fistulae survivors.  Alice opened in 2019 the first hospital in Uganda and the third in Africa dedicated to women suffering from obstetric fistula. The hospital conducts 200 surgeries per year and treat and reintegrate 600 women per year;15,000 women and girls affected by fistula treated and reintegrated. The hospital is the first specialized in Uganda and  an expansion of TERREWODE, the NGO I founded way back in 1999.

Alice also participated in the development of a National Strategy for Reintegrating young obstetric fistula survivors by the Ministry of Health in Uganda.  With her outstanding work on hand, Alice has been recognized and celebrated with:

  • The prestigious award for her outstanding Reporting on Population and Development issues, and Economic and SRHR of rural women and girls (Dec. 2007).
  • Golden Jubilee Award- Women and Girl Child Empowerment, Government of Uganda (2020)

Alice observes that the experience she gained through the Institute enabled me to be more aware of the impact of SGBV that women and girls experienced suffer  in the sub Saharan Africa.

Women and Youth-led Activism for Peace in their Communities.

Women and young people all over the world are playing an important role in peace and development. The leaders trained under the project “Promoting Peaceful Electoral processes in Uganda through Constructive Engagements” with support from the Kingdom of Belgium are from different constituencies, implying the need for a wide range of actors and movements needed to promote stability and peacee in Africa. 

In March 2021, The Peace Centre enhanced the skills and attitude of women and youth leaders to effectively promote peace, enhance leadership and development that is gender-responsive. The training covered areas including conflict analysis (peacebuilding and reconciliation), governance, leadership and mediation skills. 101 Women and youth leaders (50 Women Leaders and 51 Youth) from Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), political, religious, cultural groups, and influential leaders took part in the training in the Kampala region.

We documented some of the women and youth peacebuilders’ stories and hope that other women peacebuilders in similar situations can draw learning and inspiration from these experiences. 


Jalia Sekamate, Executive Director, Centre for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burn Violence, Makindye

“The skills gained from the training inspired the women from Kampala to create and register an association called Women Resilience Centre (WRC). This association aims at bringing together women with different expertise to work together to promote peace in the communities using different approaches such as mediation and negotiation. Immediately after the training, we convened the first meeting and were able to bring together 14 women to brainstorm on the way forward as a group.  We invited an inspirational speaker who emphasized the advantage of unity in order to achieve greater things. We later created a WhatsApp group, constituted an Executive Committee with I (Jalia) as the chairperson and Wanyana Catherine as the treasurer and embarked on the development of a constitution and registration process of the association. Our vision is to see the association grow into a big organization that will transform communities. 

WRC has so far supported young mothers who were affected by COVID-19 and also those who got pregnant during the first wave. We have also provided counselling services. We have also mediated in cases of child neglect, parents disowning their daughters who got pregnant and GBV cases that have increased in the community due to lack of a stable income and the current lockdown situation. During this second wave, WRC mobilised and visited the neediest communities in Makindye and Rubaga buying them posho, beans and soap.

Unfortunately, the planned business exhibition by the association on 20th May 2021 was not held because of the  lockdown however they plan to host one when the lockdown is eased and the spread of community cases has been contained- Jalia Sekamate, Executive Director, Centre for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burn Violence, Makindye 

Women are strengthening community-led initiatives for peace through this forum, in which they agreed to be a whistleblowers network on SGBV across cross-cutting challenges that undermine women’s agency. By undertaking this work, women leaders are challenging the status quo and promoting equality. 

Alawo Florence Zam, Youth Leader, Naguru Barracks Ntinda 

In my village, the number of school-going girls getting pregnant is high, especially between the ages of 13 and 15. From the training I was well equipped with communication and presentation skills thereafter, I was able to do some research to determine the number of girls who have not gone back to school due to pregnancy and with this information, I engaged with Alarm Uganda Orphanage to intervene and talk to the families of these girls and allow them to go back to school. We purchased scholastic materials and other necessary requirements for their enrollment in school. We continued to closely monitor the girls’ education and ensure that their guardians provided for them.- Alawo Florence Zam, Youth Leader, Naguru Barracks Ntinda 

Poverty is a driver of violence and continuously increases women’s vulnerability to violence in all its forms. This was one of the outstanding discussions during training. Florence used her daily stipend to support 3 women in her community as she narrates below; 

“I used to stay in the barracks and I witnessed the challenges that wives to soldiers go through every day due to over-dependence on the man as the breadwinner. Some women would come to me to borrow money to buy food and yet they did not have any source of income to pay back. I used to share with them some food to supplement what they have.

After the empowering sessions during the peacebuilding training, I reflected on how I can help my fellow women in the barracks to economically sustain themselves and their families. I convened a meeting with three women whom I shared with the knowledge acquired and at the end of the meeting I tasked each one of them to identify a small business that they can run within their homestead. I distributed the money equally with each one getting Thirty thousand shillings (UGX.30,000). One of the women started by frying cassava in the mornings and has now expanded to frying samosas as well, another started frying pancakes and the third one started selling Mandazi and has now expanded by selling passion juice. I am glad that these women are growing economically and can support their families as well. 

When the husband of one of the women returned from his mission, he was very impressed and happy with how his wife has become creative. When the wife shared with the husband how the story began, he was motivated to come to visit me and expressed his gratitude and thanked me for making such a priceless contribution to his family. Until today all the women in the barracks call upon me for advice and refer to me as their saviour.” – Alawo Florence Zam, Youth Leader, Naguru Barracks Ntinda 

These initiatives are a step towards women’s access and control of their economic resources. It guarantees them an improved livelihood, eases their access to healthcare, basic needs and food security. 

Nakibuuka Proscovia, Business Woman, Nansana

“As a professional teacher, I have always desired to start up a school of my own but considering the little salary I earn, my dreams have almost been shuttered. My turning point was when I was invited by the Women’s International Peace Centre to attend a peacebuilding training at Hotel Emerald in Kampala. From the training, I am glad to say that my capabilities were awakened and my fears were erased. After the training in March 2021, I took the most important decision that I always had fears about. I resigned from my teaching and decided to do poultry farming as a business which I hope with the projected annual returns, I will be able to realize my goal in a few years to come. After that initial step, I researched the best type of birds to rear, developed a business plan and built the standard house for the birds. Currently, I have 300 birds and I expect my farm to grow to 10,000 birds by the end of the year. I appreciate the Peace Centre for empowering me and motivating me to work towards achieving my goals. I have learnt that life is only for go-getters.”- Nakibuuka Proscovia, Business Woman, Nansana 

One of the training sessions covered economic empowerment and women and youth were encouraged to start up small businesses, achieve financial success, as well as take pride and celebrate their accomplishments. 

Youth leaders 

Nassuna Carol, Youth Counselor, Ggaba

“I was born and raised in a slum area referred to as “ghetto” in Ggaba in Kampala district where the poverty levels are so high. Most youth (boys and girls) in our area indulge in drug and alcohol abuse. To make it worse, the majority of the abusers are aged 10 to15 years old which has resulted in many girls in the same age bracket getting unwanted pregnancies.

After the training from the Peace Centre, I realized I have a big role to play as a Youth Leader in my community, to change the behaviour of the youth. I approached NGOs like World Vision and Uplift Uganda and we discussed effective approaches for intervention in the ghetto given that such groups are very sensitive and suspicious of people who are different from them. 

The next day we called a meeting for all ghetto youth and here we convinced them of how they need to save for their future. From the meeting, the youth agreed to save UGX.2,000 (Two thousand shillings) every day and we formed a saving group called  Achievers and Innovative Youth Savings Group which currently has 16  members actively saving. They started saving in April which has now accumulated to UGX.2,000,000 however since the lockdown in June, the group stopped saving but hope to resume when the current situation has eased. I am happy to say that most youths have taken up the saving culture as the driving force to reduce the money they were spending on buying drugs and focus on saving for their future needs.

I have also engaged with different organizations like Red Cross and Living Goods: a voluntary organization that trains door to door delivery services for pregnant mothers and children. In this period, we’ve managed to distribute food and sanitary materials to elderly women, pregnant mothers and children.

At a personal level, I thank the Peace Centre for empowering me to use my voice to influence change in my ghetto and I have gained confidence and knowledge and will use my voice to change the attitude of my fellow youth.” Nassuna Carol, Youth Counselor, Ggaba

Carol continues to cultivate leadership qualities and skills among young people in her community building on their knowledge and experience in leading change in their community.  

Environmental conflicts are about power and structural inequalities, it is important to have solutions that address those root causes. The ways of addressing them vary and include community capacity building, class actions, litigation and movement building. Timothy and his organization EcONUTA Food Waste Company are working to promote food security and protect the environment by recycling and reusing food. 


Timothy Mununuzi, Nutritionist 

“This training was an opportunity for me to enhance the conceptualization of my project on Food Wastage and Hunger in Uganda. During the training, one of the sessions focused on environmental conflict and degradation, and also provided us alternatives on recycling and reuse. After the peacebuilding training, I reflected on a project that falls within my profession as a Nutritionist. Back home most people pay for garbage collection which largely constitutes the left-over foods from different homes. Out of this, I realized there is a lot of food wastage in my community which can be reprocessed either as manure, energy regeneration or distributed to vulnerable communities to supplement their food.

I am developing a proposal to start up an initiative to empower fellow youth through recycling wasted food. I plan to coordinate with hotels and restaurants in order to secure the supply chain which we shall later sort and categorize for different recycling processes. Currently, I am doing a lot of research with other firms to come up with a clear operational plan. I am determined to  get more knowledge and skills to make my ideas realistic and beneficial to my community.”- Timothy Mununuzi, Nutritionist 

The progress so far achieved by these women and youth leaders shows the urgency in empowering women and youth peacebuilders, mediators and agents of change. Peacebuilders continue to work on a range of socio-cultural, political, economic, environmental, personal and community level interventions as documented above, to minimize the impact of inequalities and conflict fragility. The various initiatives are reflective of strengthened capacities, improved competencies, personal growth, changing knowledge skills and practices to promote a culture of peace. The Peace Centre is committed to providing spaces and amplifying these voices of women and youth for peace and security.

Meet our Grassroots Partner- Nakere Rural Women Activists (NARWOA)

Nakere Rural Women Activists (NARWOA) is an umbrella Community-Based Organization for women groups that started out in November 2002. The group converged for meetings under a tree locally called ‘Ekere’ thus the name Nakere Rural Women Activists. It was established as a community response to the humanitarian crisis in Karamoja, to address cross border and inter-ethnic political instability, the rise of warlords, high domestic violence, and discrimination of women in the society and overall adverse poverty. Read More “Meet our Grassroots Partner- Nakere Rural Women Activists (NARWOA)”

Creating a Movement of Women Peace Builders and Mediators, Meet Noella

Noella Kabale Kalu is a Gender Equality Activist, Social Entrepreneur, Peace Mediator in the Congolese refugee community in Kampala and an alumna of our 2020 Feminist Leadership Institute. Following her training, Noella has been able to share the knowledge acquired within her community, create intensive awareness around peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and mediate conflict amongst community members at the household and community level using the feminist ideology of promoting love, empathy, and unity.

Read More “Creating a Movement of Women Peace Builders and Mediators, Meet Noella”

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