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Hope in a refugee settlement
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Hope in a refugee settlement

What good can come from living in a refugee camp? Ask Turatsinze Mafigi Victor. He is the founder of the UNLEASHED programme, which empowers young refugees in the Nakivale refugee settlement in Uganda by helping them grow their own food, fight against discrimination, and create income-generating activities to encourage refugees to become social entrepreneurs. Badru Walusansa, a 26-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from Kampala, spoke to Victor, one of the 2019 Commonwealth Youth Awards finalists, about his efforts to reach some of society’s most marginalized people.

Q: Tell us more about yourself.

A: I am a Congolose refugee living in Nakivale refugee settlement. I am a social entrepreneur, life coach, mentor and artist. I dropped out of university after only three months. This is because I never appreciated formal education as a tool of transformation for our society.

Q: Having grown up and lived in Congo, when and why did you come to Uganda?

A: In 2012, I fled Congo and settled in Uganda because of the growing insecurities and wars there. I first lived in Kampala as an urban refugee. However, due to the hard economic situation in Kampala, I relocated to Nakivale refugee settlement in 2014. Having lived in a settlement, I came to realise the severe challenges faced by the youth, including unemployment and limited resources to start up small businesses. That pushed me to think innovatively, and that is how I started the UNLEASHED programme.

Q: That sounds interesting.  Briefly tell us about this programme.

The programme was started in January 2018 and is built on three critical components: self-discovery, self-learning and re-tooling. It further focuses on personal development through coaching and mentoring youth to take charge of their lives in order to overcome trauma and stress.

Reaping tomatoes through the Yes Life Score farming project

The other area of focus is the professional development implemented through encouraging youth to become problem-solvers. This also involves empowering youth to: (i) empathize with the problem within one’s community (ii) define that problem; (iii) ideate the solution (iv) create a prototype and (v) test the solution.

Through UNLEASHED, youth are able to access laptops and internet services, which has exposed them to knowledge and new ideas, and boosted their social interactions with their families and friends back home.

The programme also supports youth by providing them with farming inputs such as credit facilities, land and tools. This has helped reduce food insecurity as well as improving their livelihoods through selling the surplus. 

Other entrepreneurship schemes include tailoring and craft-making, which has created employment for many young girls and women in Nakivale. It has reduced the incidence of sex work, early pregnancies and early marriages.  

What drives your passion to support refugees?

I know what it means to be a refugee. Every day, I wake up with a zeal to better their lives and motivate them to become innovative and self-reliant, because depending on humanitarian support is not sustainable in any way. I often get energized after witnessing the impact of my efforts. Like on a good day, a refugee will walk up to you just to appreciate your support towards them or the community. For me, that is enough to bolster my passion.  Over time, UNLEASHED has become a referral point for many youths in search of coaching, mentoring and entrepreneurship services, which demonstrates that our efforts are reaping results. 

Q. How does UNLEASHED ensure sustainability?

A. We are currently funded by Jangu, a German NGO based in Uganda, which supports some of our running costs. In 2018, UNLEASHED also received a donation of nine laptops from Labdoo to equip youth with ICT knowledge and skills. We rent out some of our equipment such as cameras and projectors to the community. This has kept us in operation with little external support.

Q. What impact has been achieved under the programme so far?

A. Since its inception, 31 youths (16 male and 15 female) have been equipped with knowledge and practical skills in social entrepreneurship. These youths have started up several projects in farming, talent development and empowering girls and women in tailoring and crafts skills as well as increasing access to sexual reproductive health education.

In February 2019, under the Yes Life Scope farming project, UNLEASHED was able to procure a milling machine. There are currently three refugees employed in the mill.

By the end of 2018, over 184 refugees had benefited from UNLEASHED services. In addition, we have attracted five volunteers from USA, UK, Germany, Greece and China who have benefited from the experiential learning and sharing from UNLEASHED.

We have also been able to start an online course programme which facilitates self-learning for refugees. Eight refugees have been awarded certificates upon completion of the course.

Lastly, UNLEASHED is leading a campaign to fight discrimination against refugees through encouraging peaceful co-existence between refugees and host communities. We intend to leverage social media platforms to call upon communities to be more receptive to refugees and avoid discriminating against them.

Q. What challenges are you facing at UNLEASHED?

Due to the remoteness of Nakivale refugee settlement, there is poor internet connection, which affects learning and research. We are also constrained by both financial and human resources to reach the wider refugee population. Our plan this year is to start a community library for refugees. However, this comes with a high cost implication.

Coaching and mentorship sessions at UNLEASHED

Q. Where do you see UNLEASHED in the next 10 years?

A. We envision scaling up to other refugee settlements in Uganda. Our overriding mission is to empower refugees to ensure self-sustenance.

Q. What is your final message?

A. I am extremely grateful to the Commonwealth for the opportunity (to take part in the Commonwealth Youth Awards). I now feel useful and relevant to my community. I am hopeful that the future of this generation lies among the youth.

The Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work highlights the contributions of young people who are making a difference in their communities and celebrates their contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
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About me: I am a human rights activist, academic and writer in the local dailies. I was part of Uganda’s largest election observation group, CEON-Uganda and currently work as a Project Assistant M&E at the Legal Aid Service Providers’ Network (LASPNET). My passion is in writing and I have authored several articles on different topics in the Weekly Observer, Daily Monitor, New Vision and Independent Magazine. badruwalu@gmail.com

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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