The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the existence of over 65.6 million forcibly displaced people. 22.5 million are refugees, the majority of whom live in impoverished countries and do not receive any form of aid or support. ‘They may flee their homes with just the clothes on their backs,’ the UNHCR Livelihoods and Self-Reliance homepage reads, ‘but forcibly displaced people always carry something of considerable value: their knowledge, skills and experience.’
This statement is highly relevant for refugees in Kampala. Kampala refugees, mainly coming from nearby Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the current South Sudan, often have important business experience, or interest in learning new skills. Especially because urban refugees are not provided with material assistance (such as shelter or food), refugees in Kampala strive to become self-reliant. However, many do not know English when they first arrive in Uganda, and struggle to find programs where they can become trained in livelihoods.
The Bondeko Refugee Livelihoods Center addresses this gap through providing a Livelihoods Program run by refugees themselves, where refugees can learn skills in their own native language as well as learn English, and find a community to develop social networks within and beyond.
Working Towards a Better Tomorrow
The Bondeko Refugee Livelihoods Center (Bondeko Center) is a nationally-registered, refugee-run organization founded in 1997, by Reverend Father Michael Lingisi, in response to refugees fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He felt deeply concerned about his fellow refugees conditions in Uganda and thought of doing something despite all challenges.
Bondeko Center supports impoverished, often traumatized refugees, especially women and children, who reach Uganda's capital Kampala without connections or aid. 36 male and female refugees, including many orphans, currently live at the center. 500 refugees, many of whom live nearby in Massajja, are members of Bondeko Center and participate in its various activities.
In addition to offering shelter, food, and newcomer orientation for registration at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Bondeko Center has become a place where the resilience, innovation, and the determination of refugees to support one another is taking place. A small schoolhouse was built as part of the center, where refugees hold English classes for each other. This enables local integration and increased possibilities for finding work.
Since 2013, the center has increasingly focused on livelihoods activities through its Livelihoods Program. The program is comprised of different activities that target the women, men, and youth of Bondeko Center. A micro-savings group of 30 women, called Bondeko Women of Hope Savings Group, is now in their second yearlong cycle of savings, and is very successful. Bondeko Center has also opened a bakery at its headquarters, where rolls and donuts are baked and sold. In 2014, mushroom growing was initiated, and in 2015 the tailoring section of the Livelihoods Program was able to open their own small shop approximately 100 meters from the center.
Bondeko Center has connections to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), and over the years has received support from the Finnish Refugee Council (FRC), African Center for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV), and small private donors.
Our committee was formed in 2014 after Bondeko's founder was resettled. The Finnish Refugee Council (FRC) supported us in a two-year capacity building training to strengthen our leadership and management skills and meet auditing requirements. We meet regularly to discuss Bondeko's current projects, members' challenges, and upcoming work. We are a refugee-led organisation, and our committee consists of all refugees.