Being a Refugee in Uganda
Solidarity Eden Foundation gives English and Business classes, along with psychological support to about 250 refugees in Uganda, so that they can overcome their trauma, integrate within Ugandan society and get an opportunity for a brighter future. We met with Mayele Jules, SEF’s Co-Founder and Director, to learn more about the situation of refugees in Uganda.
What is your role at Solidarity Eden Foundation? What is your position, how long have you been with the organization, and what are your responsibilities?
My names are Mayele Jules Murhula, one of the two founders of Solidarity Eden Foundation. I have served the organization since its founding in 2015, this is about 5 years now. Currently, I am serving as an Executive Director.
In the organization, I juggle so many things, ranging from supporting daily direct programming to projecting and envisioning the organization’s future and sustainability. I am supporting our 5 staff members who directly report to me. I also oversee fundraising planning and implementation, and I am responsible for reaching out to our donors and well-wishers, through Newsletters and direct emails to keep them in the loop of whatever is going on at the foundation. Lastly, I also help the program in the conception and designing of its promotional materials such as social media content, posters, pictures, and videos.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself: where you come from, your background, and how you became involved with refugees and with Solidarity Eden Foundation in particular?
I am myself a refugee here in Uganda. I was born and raised in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This region was suffering from ongoing tribal violence and security instability was always increasing. Life was getting impossible there. In 2011, my family members were killed, and I was forced to leave and flee to Uganda.
Upon arrival in this new country, I faced great challenges because I did not know any of the local languages. I soon began attending English Language Classes and graduated in 7 months.
In mid-2012, I started volunteering at Soccer Without Borders as an English teacher in its Adult classes. I then became an official staff member in 2013 and spent a few years as a Head Teacher and Soccer Coach, and eventually as Program Education Coordinator.
With that experience and a shared vision with Jeremiah Lukeka, I decided to start something by myself and I co-founded Solidarity Eden Foundation in 2015
Founding Solidarity Eden Foundation was really the result of the great passion I had developed for community development over the years, ostracized refugees. So many refugees face great challenges when they arrive in Uganda, after having been through traumatic experiences in their home country, while adjusting to completely new and different cultural practices. That is not an easy transition; refugees must deal with language barriers, unemployment, difficult access to formal school, and discrimination from the local communities.
Furthermore, these refugees lack safe spaces where they can gain essential psychosocial, emotional, and life skills support that would enable them to integrate well within the host community and become self-reliant.
How does Solidarity Eden Foundation operate? How many volunteers do you work with on a regular, ongoing basis? What are their roles and responsibilities?
At Solidarity Eden Foundation, we offer English classes, vocational classes, literacy catch-up classes, and music classes. Any day you might stop by the foundation, there will be a class taking place.
In the past, we have received up to two volunteers on-site and we would like to maintain a maximum of two for long periods between 1-3 months. For a short-term basis, 1-4 weeks we can receive up to 5 volunteers. Volunteers can help in all aspects:
- Teaching or assist in our English classes for both Level 1 and 2
- Teach and assess in our vocational classes
- Collect, manage and oversee our monitoring and evaluation
- Assist in program/project design
- Take part in participants and community outreaches which include home visits of our students, and other local civic activities
- Grants and proposal writing
In your eyes, why is empowering urban refugee youths and adults so important? What challenges do you address and how does your foundation solve them?
Uganda is home to nearly 1.4 million refugees. As you can expect, arriving in a host country does not mean for a refugee that his/her struggles are over. The first challenge faced and the first one that needs to overcome is the language barrier. Ugandans speak English, so the first thing we offer to newly arrived refugees are English classes. It helps them gain some social capital and integrate better in their new country.
Our biggest goal is to help refugees become self-reliant. In Uganda, the country provides monthly food and medical services to refugees, but this is only if you are in the camps. Once you leave the camp (because living in a refugee camp is not supposed to last forever), you need to cater to your own necessities. These include house rent, medication, feeding, and education. In Kampala alone, there are nearly 80,000 refugees and asylum seekers who battle so hard to survive.
At SEF we provide a Vocational Training Program which helps refugees gain knowledge and skills and, hopefully, manage to make a living. The program includes a craft-making class and a business class. We also assist those who wish to continue formal school while in Uganda.
In parallel, there is a great need for psychosocial support among the refugee community. Many refugees experience trauma and depression, invisible wounds that significantly impact their wellbeing and chances of success in Uganda. Without addressing these issues and providing mental health counseling and a safe space to share experiences and express oneself, none of the other work we do can truly be effective.
Refugees spending time together at the SEF center
How has the Coronavirus crisis affected your work? What are the challenges it creates in the immediate, mid-term, and long-term periods?
Corona has had a significant impact on our work, whereby we were forced to suspend daily programming as per the Government directive strategy to control the spread of the virus.
Suspending our activities at the Solidarity Eden Foundation meant that our nearly 200 refugee participants stopped receiving vital service ranging from educational, emotional, psychosocial support, and even the interactions with fellow refugees as they previously did.
Given the situation, we proactively designed new methods to continue our work with them, which is even more needed when everyone is isolating themselves. We use Facebook, Whatsapp Groups, and also 1-on-1 check-ins between participants and staff to make sure they have someone they can talk to.
As many economic activities have been shut down at a global level, we have already experienced a decrease in donor contributions. Long term funding itself is very scarce, so a decrease in this donor contributions will definitely have an impact on our next financial year and even this second half of 2020.
Full attendance for the English class at the SEF center
What consequences of this crisis are you most worried about?
The lack of control over a number of things during this crisis is a big challenge for me. I am very used to jumping into things and fixing as much as I can. Unfortunately, during this pandemic, it is very different and so much is out of my control, even if I wish I could fix many things myself. All I can do at the moment is to stay home and support from a distance, so I keep people safe and myself as well.
I am already very worried about the people that have lost their income opportunities because of this pandemic. I am not super aware of how they are coping, but I can tell it is a very challenging experience.
Lastly, I am worried about the fragile populations, including my fellow refugees and the participants we serve who must isolate themselves at the moment. As victims of trauma and depression, isolation can be very triggering to them. I pray that they embrace resilience and positivity as we travel through this unprecedented event of our lifetime.
The work of Solidarity Eden Foundation is truly incredible, providing effective solutions to identified needs, and improving the lives of refugees in a tangible and long-lasting way. Want to help? You can donate to SEF in just a few clicks. You can also support its dedicated COVID-19 relief project HERE.
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