Currently, most refugees live in the cities rather than in the refugee camps. We represent over 60 percent of the number of refugees globally. With the majority of refugees living in urban areas, there is a strong need for a paradigm shift and new thinking. Rather than wasting money on building walls, it would be better to spend on programs to help refugees to help themselves.
We always have to leave behind all our possessions. But not our skills and knowledge. If allowed to live a productive life, refugees can help themselves and contribute to the development of their host country.
I was born in the city called Bukavu, South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am the fifth-born in a family of 12 children. My father, a mechanic by profession, worked very hard to send me to school. Just like other young people, I had a lot of plans and dreams. I wanted to complete my studies, get a nice job, marry and have my own children and support my family. But this didn't happen. War in my homeland forced me to flee to Uganda in 2008, nine years ago. My family joined a steady exodus of refugees who settled in Uganda's capital, Kampala. In my country, I lived already in the city, and we felt Kampala was much better than a refugee camp.
Refugees in the cities have always been denied international assistance, even after their recognition by UNHCR in 1997. In addition to the poverty problem we were confronted with as the local urban poor, we were facing challenges due to our refugee status, such as a language barrier. In Congo, the official language is French. But in Uganda, it is English. We didn't have access to education and health. We were exposed to harassment, exploitation, intimidation and discrimination. Humanitarian organizations mostly focused on the formal settlement in rural areas, and there was nothing in place for us. But we didn't want handouts. We wanted to work and support ourselves.
I joined my other two colleagues in exile and set up an organization to support other refugees. YARID — Young African Refugees for Integral Development — began as a conversation within the Congolese community. We asked the community how they could organize themselves to solve these challenges. The YARID programs for support evolve in stages, progressing from soccer community, to English language to sewing livelihoods. The soccer changed the energy of unemployed youth and connected people from different communities. The free English classes help empower people to engage with the Ugandan community, allowing them to get to know their neighbors and sell wares. The vocational training program offers livelihood skills, and with them, important opportunities for economic self-reliance. We've seen so many families become self-sustaining. We've seen who no longer needs our help.
As YARID's programs have expanded, it has included an increasing range of nationalities — Congolese, Rwandan, Burundian, Somalis, Ethiopian, South Sudanese. Today, YARID has supported over 3,000 refugees across Kampala and continues supporting more.
Refugees want empowerment, not handouts. We know our community better than anyone. We understand the challenges and opportunities we face to become self-reliant. I know better than anyone that initiatives created by refugees work. They need to be internationally recognized and supported. Give us the support we deserve, and we will pay you back with interest.
Thank you so much.