“We can do a lot in restoring refugees hope. Refugees are crying every day. The suffer silent, they need to be empowered.”
Bienvenu Byamungu is a 29 year old refugee originally from the Congo, growing up in the Kyangwali refugee camp in Uganda. Overall, there are 1.5 million refugees in Uganda. His family fled in 1996 because of the war and violence; Bloodshed, looting and rape ran rampant in his communities. The journey to safety would not be easy, and Bienvenu has not been back to his birth country due to the instability that still plagues the area.. Bienvenu recalls before crossing to Uganda how his family stayed in the forest for a number of weeks with no food, no water. The norm he saw was young men and boys forced to join army positions in rebel groups. In the camp, conditions were no better as they were unfit, unbearable. Food cash assistance essentially was $10 USD, not enough to feed a family for a week. When Bienvenu describes the conditions, it was to the point that people were going back to their home countries because “...they would rather die in a war zone, than die there from hunger.”
Bienvenu was moved to take action in the classroom; He looked to address the future leaders to challenge the instability and opportunities of access. In terms of capacity for education, 1 class had 300 children taught by 1 teacher. It was not common for kids to go on to secondary school due to students' inability to take exams and generate school fees, they usually dropped out and engaged in high risk, exploitative behavior for survival. This meant discrimination in job markets with little to no opportunities for getting jobs. Bienvenu worked hard, and was one of the lucky ones, to get sponsored to go to a school outside the camp. At the same time he was working roofing houses, fetching water to pay for school fees. In 2007 he joined primary school and started to think how he wanted to change school systems forever in his community.
Bienvenu started thinking in 2007: What if we come together? Mobilize Women and children, groups that are typically more exploited in decision making, to empower themselves. This led to Planning For Tomorrow (P4T) in 3 years. Bienvenu realized they couldn’t wait for donors to solve their problems; Can’t wait for organizations and expats to come and go. It had to be determined by their community. This group would not only address issues of poverty, but also of social and cultural preservation including family planning. Eventually through hard work, P4T was a registered nonprofit and Bienvenu obtained his diploma in Development Studies. After almost losing hope being in the camp for over 20 years, Bienvenu was able to create his pathway, and the pathway for others, on their terms.
“We believe that by using the people who are part of the community suffering the problems, the best solutions can be achieved” (P4T)
P4T is still standing, and standing proud to advocate for one another in the Kyangwali camp and beyond. In 2015 it was a kindergarten with 25 children. Today? There are 600 children being supported,every year primary school children are going on to secondary school dealing with a less congested classroom. Now these children have hot meals (breakfast and lunch) so they do not drop out of school because of hunger. In 2015 P4T even won a grant by the US embassy to support orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV.
“Refugees are the future (leaders) of tomorrow; We will change our country; We will solve the problems. We are not the problems, we are the SOLUTIONS. Through the power of education it is possible. [Knowing] how my today can make a better tomorrow. They have the power to change the community and need to advocate for rights because of the exploitation of refugees.”
Having just been resettled in Norway for just 7 months now with his wife and 3 children, everything is new for Bienvenu and he is learning a lot of things; Socializing with new friends, learning new language. He says he is lucky to know English. Bienvenu supporting P4T from Norway, he hopes to one day register the organization there. Unfortunately with COVID-19 pandemic, situations have even been more difficult in Uganda. Support has left, there is no food or water, and children at school are vulnerable. Government assistance is only for citizens, not refugees. Refugees are discriminated against even though everyone around the world is facing the same problems, with nowhere to go.
What are Bienvenu’s hopes? He wishes that “...tomorrow is better for everyone; Women have rights and there are new faces of smiles and tears wiped. Children need someone to help them realize their dreams to create a better world. Freeing corruption in our world with the love of humanity, there is transformation for the better.”
Bienvenu is a changemaker. He is working within and beyond his community, to help individuals empower themselves. He advocates for better representation; For voices to be elevated, to lead the meetings. He urges to combat the stereotypes of refugees, the unjust
“...usage of refugees as a business...Organizations come say “ become self reliant” but how are you empowering me when I am being discriminated against in some of the opportunities? Come here to tell me how to make soap, but when I try to train others, you don't give me the opportunity?”
Anyone reading this can take action. Bienvenu says it is important for people to empower refugee initiatives. Instead of focusing on outside people coming into the camps, look to see what is going on the ground. Bienvenu would like you to know that refugees are human beings, all of us born free and die without anything. We are all equal in front of God. Give them the opportunity in decision-making. Allow them to lead and represent, not forcing others to decide for them. Include refugees in the job market, to work in said organizations.
Pause. Listen. Include.
This is what happened, refugees in kyangwali escaping to go back to DRC to die in war instead of dying with hunger
Refugees always suffer, wfp cut food ratio and government of Uganda discriminate refugees from government aid.