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What it means to be a woman in a world’s largest refugee settlement:

"She was escaping fierce fighting in her home town of Bor Medina in South Sudan when Amer was intercepted and gang raped by 6 men who killed the 2 other women who tried to resist. She was released with a ruptured uterus. After walking for 7 days of unbearable pain, she finally crossed the border into the world’s largest refugee settlement – Bidibidi in Uganda. She joined the very long line to be registered, no one wanted to be near her because of a terrible smell that was coming from her.

When Essie approached her she said;

“I ran from a lion only to confront a bear and when l sought refuge in a house, l stepped on a serpent”.

Essie hugged Amer and sought emergency medical attention for her.

In a thank you note she addressed to Essie she wrote;

“When you are a refugee, you have no dignity, no one respects you – but you are different – l thank you”.

2 days later, Amer was pronounced dead.

She was only 21 years old.

Uganda’s hospitality and open policy towards refugees has presented both opportunities and challenges amid one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time.

Bidi-Bidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district has sprouted up and overcrowded faster than ever in Uganda. For those displaced in this settlement, concerns like the spread of disease, access to basic needs and survival have consumed daily life. Being a woman in Bidi-Bidi refugee camp compounds all these concerns.

Much as refugees in Uganda enjoy full human rights without discrimination just like nationals, the despicable pain refugee women and girls have to endure on their journeys and in the resettlement villages make them a very vulnerable and marginalized group, one that can easily be manipulated into a soft target for radicalization into criminal acts upon being promised a better life.

Even when they have full rights to movement and employment, refugee women find it very hard to secure employment to live a decent life in a country with 86% of her youth unemployed.

Even when Ugandan government gives them a small piece of land where to build a small house to stay, refugee women have to look for grass to thatch the houses and fire wood to prepare a meal from neighborhood gardens of locals which has resulted into clashes putting peaceful co-existence in jeopardy.

I believe that young women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world and I am one of them.

Therefore, analyzing this situation as a ‘time bomb’, l innovated the “Lift up her Voice”. This is an expedition Challenge of universities across the globe engaging empowered university girls. The idea is to work together with local communities, innovate and create a decent life for refugee women and girls while supporting peaceful co-existence in refugee settlements beginning with the world’s largest refugee settlement – Bidibidi in Uganda.

The Challenge was conceived to achieve 2 objectives;

  • Strengthened resilience of refugee women and girls living in the world’s largest refugee settlement.

  • Sustainable livelihood through social, economic and employment opportunities especially with a focus on supporting refugee women and girls in agriculture, the biggest employer of the traditional Ugandan woman.

What is the Expedition?

The “Lift up her Voice” expedition is a humanitarian challenge of university girls transforming lives of the most vulnerable refugee women and girls in the world.

In this expedition, university girls have only 5 days to be the drops of water that will create waves of change in lives of refugee women living at the edge of survival in refugee camps and settlements.

The “Lift up her Voice” Reality Television Show

“Lift up her Voice” will air weekly on Uganda’s most watched television station for a period of 10 months annually creating opportunity for other women in Uganda and the world to learn from teams what they can do to show solidarity with refugee women and girls.

The Ugandan local population will use SMS to vote for the best team with the best innovative intervention that transformed lives of refugee women basing on activities of the 5 days.

Grand finals will be held at a Red Carpet event to decorate and award the best team with a Humanitarian Award for the dignity of a refugee woman.

Funds raised at the grand final event will be used to establish a Savings and Cooperative Society for Refugee women groups which participated in the past expeditions to boost their distribution chains and strengthen their established businesses to achieve financial inclusion as a key enabler to reducing poverty and boosting prosperity among refugee women.

In this way, we shall reduce the refugee dependence burden by over 50% since 86% of refugees in Bidibidi are women and children. They will be supported to earn and become self reliant, and in return they will support Uganda to ensure food security for its citizens. I want to see that refugee women and girls who have lived in the settlement for more than a year, no longer have to depend on hand outs as their source of livelihood. Uganda is a rich agricultural country, whatever you plant in the soil even with the minimum of care, there will be a harvest for you however small.

What matters mostly to me is the ruthless culture of treating refugees as less human. Refugee women and girls are equal members of society, they too deserve complete respect and personal dignity because every person has the right to live their life the best way they can No matter what challenges an individual might face.

Can you imagine what it means to be a woman in the world’s largest refugee settlement? Do you know what it feels to be an unwanted visitor carrying 1 out of your 3 children but you don’t know where the 2 are because they were at school when war broke out and you didn’t look back? Borders are simply borders and difference is not dangerous. Let us all work together to give migration a human face.

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