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Refugees go behind the camera to tell their story

By Mandy Burrows, Senior Programme Manager

Next Saturday 20th June is World Refugee Day. It is a day to remember the courage and resilience of the millions of people who are being forcibly displaced from their homes and having to rebuild their lives from scratch.

Last year, we began a four year project in Uganda which works in two of the country’s refugee settlements.  The project will provide over 20,000 refugee families with the financial tools and training they need to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and work for a better future.

The statistics about refugees in Uganda are eye-watering: there are currently over 1.4 million refugees in Uganda. But behind each statistic is a person – a mother or father with a harrowing story of how they had to flee their homeland for safety and security.

To help us gain a better understanding of the needs of the refugees we hope to serve, we are conducting group participatory video diaries, alongside regular individual financial diaries.   

I went to Nakivale Refugee Settlement in March this year to start this process.  We worked with InsightShare to train some of the project’s Financial Inclusion Officers, Financial Diary Researchers, and representatives from our partners. They became our local evaluation team, made up predominantly of refugees, and were trained to conduct participatory research using videos. This meant that research could be conducted with refugees in their own community and in their own language.

The local evaluation team were trained in how to facilitate the field research in order for refugee communities to tell their story, and then aid these communities in filming this.  The aim of these video diaries is to better understand the life of refugees in Nakivale, which will enable us to ensure the project meets their needs.  

           Participatory Video Diaries     Participatory Video Diaries

Our workshops were cut short due to COVID-19 but we learned so much.  Here are some key highlights:

  • Most of those we spoke to weren’t looking for a handout, they were looking for opportunities to support themselves and their families.
  • Many wanted access to financial services and were grateful for the financial literacy training and the visibility of our partners.
  • Many wanted to have some form of business training included alongside the financial literacy training, in order to strengthen Income Generating Activities.
  • Common areas of concern were health and hygiene, with poor access to healthcare and clean water noted by many of the participants.

From a personal point of view, the visit was truly humbling. It was emotional at times hearing some of the terrible experiences that refugees have been through while fleeing their own country. At other times it was full of hope and joy, especially given the amazing people I had the privilege to meet and work with and their incredible outlook on life.

Despite the outbreak of COVID-19, the Financial Diaries work is continuing, albeit remotely. This is providing good insight into how the pandemic is affecting refugees.  Unsurprisingly, the majority of those taking part in the Financial Diaries (100 in each settlement), reported feeling ‘very terrified’ by the outbreak.  Almost all have reported that food prices have increased and the majority reported that the cost of cooking fuel (e.g. charcoal) have risen. As a result of this, the majority of refugees reported that household food consumption had reduced, with 57% saying that it had ‘reduced a lot’.

The project is currently looking at adaptations in light of COVID-19 as it is essential to rebuild the resilience and livelihood interests of refugees.


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