LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN UGANDA: AN INTERVIEW WITH FATB KATILAN KHALID (5/5)

“I think my source of hope is myself. I feel like every day I have to wake up and do something to prepare myself for the future. That’s why we started the organization Planning For Tomorrow. We are not only planning for ourselves but for everyone here in Kyangwali. We try to train them with life skills so they can use the skills to gain an income tomorrow. We are trying to teach the children [in our school] so they can at least perform well in their primary national examinations, and then also proceed to secondary, perform well, and have a good future. P4T is very important because we know the problem that fellow refugees are having, and all of our interventions tackle the refugees’ problems. And there is no one who can do it better than us who are here, living in the settlement. That is why we value interventions of refugees more than the ones of external agencies. The community can easily impact the population. Any small support that is given to the community can have a very big impact.”

To learn more about Planning For Tomorrow Youth Organisation and the amazing work through refugee initiatives, check out their Facebook page!

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LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN UGANDA: AN INTERVIEW WITH FATB KATILAN KHALID (4/5)

“There’s nothing specifically unique about being a refugee, but I think the life we have gone through has taught us something. Being a refugee, first of all, is not easy. The status itself, some of us receive with pride because we were suffering, but being known as a refugee, some people can actually undermine you. Secondly, when you are in the refugee settlement, you are reduced. For you to get out of the settlement to look for a way of life or money to live, you need a road permit, which is also not easy to get. Those can take almost up to two weeks. Then in Kyangwali for example, we have people with different skills. We have constructors, we have entrepreneurs, and many other skills, but the organizations here cannot use a refugee to provide them any service even though we have the skills. Because when I came here, I found people who have stayed here for years, and there was not much change. When I ended up staying here for five years, we saw there was some need to really create our own change. So being from Congo, we started by doing the traditional things we knew from Congo. Like knitting traditional bowls, weaving traditional sleeping mats, using local available resources and selling them. We decided to adopt it and train other community members who will benefit – we helped them because they did not know how to start.”

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LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN UGANDA: AN INTERVIEW WITH FATB KATILAN KHALID (3/5)

“I am grateful that I became a refugee, because before when I was in Uganda, I felt isolated among Ugandans. I even lost my name, because I was scared that in the program for free primary education, I would not benefit because I was Congolese and not Ugandan. As a refugee I feel like I belong, because I am among my people in the settlement. It was fantastic to be a refugee. Although life was not easy, at least I was with people from my own area.”

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LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN UGANDA: AN INTERVIEW WITH FATB KATILAN KHALID (2/5)

“I was born in Buta which is located in the northern part of Congo; near the border with South Sudan. When I was young, my sister got married in Kisangani, which is the provincial city of northern Congo. I was brought to live with my sister in Kisangani, that’s where I started school. But when the war started in Kisangani, and we ran back to Buta. It was in 1997 that we decided to run from Congo. Firstly, because my brother, the one who is here [in Kyangwali] now, was kidnapped, and was forced to drive rebels. So he disappeared, and we did not know where he was. I went back and started living with my mother, because she was now alone there, and so was I. My elder brother was not there and my father was also killed in the war, so I went to live with my mother. Then one night some people came and attacked us. We didn’t know whether they were government soldiers or rebels. They just came through the front door and started banging. My mother turned to me and said, ‘You run, but for me, I have nowhere to run.’ So I ran and she remained behind. I ran and hid somewhere in the forest but I heard her crying. I did not know whether they were beating her or if she was dying or what was happening to her. I was forced to leave her behind. I continued to run and then I found some people who were carrying timber, who took me up to Kinsangani, which is where my sister still remained. My sister was going to Uganda with her husband, because he was a Ugandan soldier [who was in Congo]. So that is we ended up coming to Uganda. We went to northern Uganda since we came with a convoy of Ugandan soldiers. We were taken to northern Uganda to fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army, the rebel group in the north. We again suffered the same conflict that we experienced in the Congo. We would live in one place for two weeks, and then be taken to another place. We continued to move from one place to another until my sister’s husband told me, ‘You will live in one place, so you can study.’ I started studying in Primary 3 class in Uganda, up north in the Oyam district. Unfortunately, in 1999, my sister’s husband, was taken to Bundibugyo in western Uganda to fight with another rebel group called ADF (Allied Democratic Forces), and he was killed. Then, I was just left with my sister. Life was not easy. I later got in touch with another man who was from my village, in Congo, who told me that my brother was in Kyangwali! Now there were two of us, me and my other brother Hamid. We came to Kyangwali and became refugees. That was back in 2001. So from 1997 until 2011, I was in Uganda, but I was not a refugee yet. It was in 2011, that I became a refugee in Uganda.”

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LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN UGANDA: AN INTERVIEW WITH FATB KATILAN KHALID) (1/5)

Over the next few days, NLG board member Meital Kupfer will be sharing the incredible story of Daniel Ameny (Fatb Katilan Khalid), a refugee in Uganda. Uganda is the eighth largest host of refugees in the world, with over 600,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Burundi, and Rwanda.
Daniel Ameny, also known as Khalid, is a Congolese refugee who has lived in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement since 2001. He has been in Uganda since 1997 after fleeing his native country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, due to war.
Kyangwali Settlement is one of ten refugee settlements in Uganda. It is in Western Uganda, on the shores of Lake Albert, 80 km from the town of Hoima. Kyangwali is 90 km2 and hosts approximately 40,000 Congolese, Sudanese, Burundian, and Rwandese refugees, many of whom have lived here for over a decade.
Daniel is the co-director of Planning For Tomorrow Youth Organisation, which is a refugee founded community-based organization (CBO) with a vision of a healthy and self-reliant community. P4T was started in 2007 by a group of refugees in Kyangwali Settlement and promotes community initiatives and has recently opened a local primary and nursery school. Daniel still lives in Kyangwali and hopes to expand P4T’s school to upper primary and create more opportunities for the refugee community.
If you are interested in learning about No Lost Generation GWU, please join us for our Spring Conference on April 29th.
Tickets found here:
http://bit.ly/1YJZq62

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LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN AMERICA: AN INTERVIEW WITH IMAM ZIA (6/6)

“I hope that this experience, of being a refugee at one point in my life, has made me a stronger person but, more importantly, an empathetic person. I am able to do what I do, whatever little I can do for the community mainly because of the experience that I went through. When your emotions take a toll on you and you’re down for so long you feel there’s something missing in your heart. You don’t feel like you’re missing something but at the same time, there’s a lot that’s missing. Outwardly, all your needs are fulfilled, you have a car a house and everything else but you still feel like you need something that you’re not getting. This experience helps you become an empathetic person but on some people, it has the opposite effect. It hardens them and they become more indifferent to the plight of those in need. We should be aware of this pitfall, this desensitization that can occur as a result of suffering. And we should make a conscious effort not to allow ourselves to become indifferent. We must use that experience of hardship to be more willing to give back and more willing to help our community and humanity. One of the most beautiful things about America is that it definitely opens up your mind and you see diversity here. Here you have a model of coexistence and progress, where individuals work together peacefully and not just tolerating one another but loving one another. You appreciate the diversity and that God has created people so differently. The diversity here helps you become more welcoming and accepting of others because that’s what’s missing in most places overseas. The conflicts that you see in the Muslim world, whether is Afghanistan or Syria, whether it’s sectarian, religion-based conflict or ethnic conflict, people don’t appreciate or accept each other’s differences and that causes unnecessary war and suffering. We are so different yet also so similar. At the end of the day, we are all one big human family.”

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LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN AMERICA: AN INTERVIEW WITH IMAM ZIA (5/6)

“A few things I would like people in the host countries to know is that refugees are refugees because they are literally seeking refuge and shelter. No one is doing this because crossing borders and oceans and risking your life it’s an enjoyable experience. I think many refugees, myself included, empathize with everyone who is seeking opportunity and coming to America. Whether it’s people from South America, Syria or elsewhere one thing that makes refugees stand out is that they don’t have a choice. Running is the only choice they have. As opposed to an economic migrant who wants to improve his/her life but their life is not under threat. Even though their conditions are also tough no one’s going to kill them but with refugees, it’s literally a life and death situation. So, that’s the one thing that I would like people in the host countries to realize. The second thing is for them to look at the example of the previous generation of refugees that have come and have settled in Europe or America. For the most part, refugees have become an asset to their community and host countries. America is what is is mostly because it has embraced people, refugees and immigrants who have made America great. Refugees and immigrants are not a burden to anyone. We should embrace and accept them just as human beings in need. We are fortunate to have so many resources and opportunities so helping refugees can be a big way of giving gratitude. But if that’s not really something we can do then, at least, we can look at the benefits that they can bring. The fact that they are not burdens and don’t become a burden on the society here and that they actually give more than they take. Refugees and immigrants pay taxes and they are your doctors and engineers and cab drivers and community leaders that do so much good work.” 12938228_1729316927324455_6349550793945542431_n

LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN AMERICA: AN INTERVIEW WITH IMAM ZIA (4/6)

“I think loneliness takes a huge toll on individuals that come as immigrants or as refugees. It doesn’t matter if they come by themselves or with their family, across the board loneliness is one common denominator. They feel extremely lonely and it’s very hard for them to adjust to things. It’s not the physical hardships like how to get a job, where to live, or where to go to school etc. because at the end of the day there’s a way to find your way around those things. In America, everyone who wants to get an education or who wants to work ultimately finds a way to do so. Before I moved to the United States, I had already learned English in Peshawar. I was also able to read enough about America through the Internet even though it wasn’t that big in the 90’s especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although I knew zero slang. Slang was like a new language that I still try to learn from the younger generation in the community. My point is even though I knew English it didn’t do anything for me. In terms of the loneliness, it doesn’t matter if you know the language because the language is not about what you speak it’s about your heart being content. So my tongue knew the language but my heart didn’t know the language. For the first year every day, I kept saying to myself that next week I’m going to go back. It’s a healing process because you’re separated from your motherland and that takes a huge toll on you because no matter how great America is you will always miss your motherland.”

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LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN AMERICA: AN INTERVIEW WITH IMAM ZIA (3/6)

When we crossed the border into Pakistan it was a whole new experience because we had never been out of Afghanistan prior to the war. Now we were in a new country. Since there is shared heritage and people in north-western Pakistan spoke Pashto, one of the two languages we speak at home (Farsi being the other), there was no language barrier for us. But it was still a different country, a different currency and most importantly for us it was a different kind of climate. Where we lived in Afghanistan the weather was pretty much like Virginia, it doesn’t get too hot in the summer and the winters are pretty cold. Peshawar heat is awful. So that was something that was difficult for us to get used to. So all those years that I lived there I never made peace with the heat.

A lot of the education within the refugee community was heavily religious education and there was a reason for that. Conditions were so tough that faith and religion provided a safety net for everyone that you could lean on regardless of how tough things were. Holding on to our faith made life bearable. The camps themselves were these deserted areas that refugees had to develop on their own. When you first cross the border and arrive at the camp you had to build your own house on the plot of land that was given to you. These houses would be made of either mud or other natural resources available. Many of these refugees lived there for two to three decades. People would go about their lives happily making the most out of things. After ten years, the refugees turned these deserts into an oases. You would go to these camps and see a lot of trees, plants, and flowers. They made the most out of those conditions because they were able to rely on their faith. Religious education was a positive thing and was the very focal point of everyone’s education. I cherish my educational experience and for me, it was a very pleasant and beautiful experience of learning my faith. Now looking back people see it as something negative that played a role in extremism and violence. I went through a madrasa education, there was no militancy, no one taught me to go kill people or hate people. I feel like it’s being mischaracterized, exploited and people will make a lot of very sweeping statements about the madrasas. When a generation grows up knowing nothing but war then of course they’re going to start fighting over power and cause suffering that unfortunately continues until this day. There’s a lot of blame to go around and any armed conflict breeds a lot social decadence, but at the root level, there was nothing but goodness in my experience as a refugee.

Before coming to America I had learned English in Peshawar. If I had continued to live in Afghanistan I would have never been able to learn foreign languages like Arabic, Urdu, and English or get any kind of education. So this experience of being a refugee came with hardships but also with a lot of blessings.

Pakistan was like a second home to us. The people were especially hospitable and we felt at home there as we do now in America. Like many Afghans, we eventually moved from the refugee camp to more settled areas. Everyone living there embraced us and we never felt like we didn’t belong.”

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LIVING AS A REFUGEE IN AMERICA: AN INTERVIEW WITH IMAM ZIA (2/6)

“We kept going back and forth from our village to the eastern part of Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan. We would stay there for a few months and once we felt things were calmer we would return home but as soon as violence started erupting again we would flee. We did this a few times until we realized that it was not practical anymore. The hope we were holding on to, that the conflict would soon come to an end, started vanishing. The Soviets raided our village one day, which consisted of no more than 100 to 150 families because they were fired upon from our village. As soon as the people heard the Soviets were coming, the villagers either fled their homes or started running and hiding in the grape vineyards. The Soviets came that day. They raided the houses of unarmed civilians. They went house to house and inside the vineyards and killed people on the spot. At the end of the day when they left the body count was 50 people. There was no house that didn’t lose someone. That was a turning point for us. Experiences like that made us realize that it’s clearly not safe anymore.”

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