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The Refugees who are making Uganda into a home for everyone

By Opportunity International

There is a common misconception about refugee settlements – they are often pictured as emergency temporary camps, with rows upon rows of tents. However, that isn’t always the case and in the Ugandan refugee settlements that we work in, they are very different.

Uganda is known for its progressive and generous policy to refugees, supporting free movement, access to land, owning property and integration into society. Uganda is the fifth largest hosting nation of refugees in the world, with over 1.6 million refugees and asylum seekers from surrounding countries, living in their settlements. These settlements contain permanent houses, businesses, and community buildings such as shops, banks and hospitals. Many refugees stay in these settlements permanently, their children are born and grow up there. Uganda’s refugee settlements are changing rapidly from settlements to small cities.

Opportunity International works in two of Uganda’s refugee settlements – Nakivale and Rwamwanja. Nakivale, in the south-west close the border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the oldest refugee settlement in Africa and third largest of its kind in Uganda.  It is home to more than 180,000 refugees, half of which are female. Many have come from surrounding countries including Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia, often fleeing conflict and violence.

Rebuilding your life in an unknown country with very few possessions, if any, is a big, daunting mountain to climb. But many are ambitious to build a better life for themselves and others, starting small businesses to help make that mountain an easier climb. Many of the refugees we work with are making Nakivale into a home for their future and family. 

Refugees like Patient and Sephora.

Patient – Fighting malaria in his community

Patient arrived in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda in 2016 with his younger sister, after fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) amid growing political instability and violence. He was just 17 years and spoke no English.

In 2020, Patient’s sister contracted malaria, an all-too-common occurrence in the settlement. In spite of wide spread public health campaigns to prevent the disease, refugees have limited access to any mosquito repellent to protect themselves from bites and infection.

And so, BOTANICA was born.

Patient’s grandfather was a traditional herbal doctor in the DRC, and he taught Patient that many local plants and herbs have naturally occurring properties that repel mosquitos.  Using this knowledge, Patient created BOTANICA - an organic mosquito repellant.  Patient is a member of ‘Unleashed Potentials in Motion’, a refugee-led organisation and one of our partners in the settlement.  Along with other members of the group, Patient received support from Opportunity International to develop and build his business.

Patient’s business is booming, and he is even creating jobs within his community – currently he employs six people.   

“The bank account with Opportunity enables me to keep money secure, manage it well and create financial targets. My business is doing well and I can now pay my young sister’s school fees, pay bills and be financially independent.


Sephora – Spreading the Word about Women’s Health

Sephora displaying her latest product in the Her Pride range.

We first met Sephora two years ago. She and her family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo due to the ongoing conflict and violence. At Nakivale, Sephora joined ‘Unleashed’, a youth entrepreneur group, who received support from Opportunity International to develop and build sustainable businesses. Sephora received financial training and a loan to develop women’s health products which she called ‘Her Pride’. She created a cream that prevents vaginal infections and provides relief from menstrual cramps, and ‘My Pride’, a card game that teaches people about women’s health.

Sephora has helped and inspired hundreds of girls in her community. Her Pride has helped girls go to school and study without pain and taught both boys and girls about women’s health.

We revisited Sephora, two years on, to catch up with her latest exciting business expansion. She has now added reusable sanitary pads to her product line. The reusable sanitary pads are designed to have a long lifespan and the packaging is made from recycled plastic bags, contributing to building an eco-friendly planet.

Sephora tells us all about her latest product and her future goals in the video below.

Establishing a home, building a better future.

Patient and Sephora are like many refugees in Nakivale who are working hard to establish a home and build a better future for themselves and their community. They and other refugees are helping to create more job opportunities, providing the chance for others to build better futures and even start their own businesses. Patient and Sephora are inspirations to their community, showing them that you can make ideas into a successful business that also helps others. They are paving the way for other refugees - they just needed an opportunity to do so.

In the past 5 years, thanks to your support, we have given over 30,000 refugees training in finance and helped over 20,000 refugees open savings accounts, to help them create sustainable livelihoods. In the next 5 years, we hope to reach a further 50,000 refugees in both Nakivale and Rwamwanja. Will you join us?

Help us to reach 50,000 more refugees like Patient and Sephora and give them the opportunity to change their lives. Donate today.

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