By Jayme Doll Global News
Posted July 19, 2023 9:56 am
Updated July 19, 2023 11:19 am
Edmonton man, once a refugee in Uganda himself, returns to give hope to the displaced
It’s considered a peaceful country surrounded by broken nations. Uganda has the third largest refugee population in the world and tens of thousands of people continue to spill over its borders every single day as decades long conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan rage on.
Patrick Kizehe was just 14 when he heard gunshots outside his school in DRC. He ran home to find his mother and aunt in a panic trying to round up the children and get to safety.
“That is when my uncle died,” recalled Kizehe. “We didn’t even get a chance to bury him.”
He watched with his own eyes as a neighbour was caned to death, images forever etched into his memory.
” It was horrible, really horrible,” he said, his scars both inside and out.
“If you look here I have a scar that is from the stone. People were just stoning us accusing us of not being citizens of the Congo. My great-grandfather was born in the Congo.”
They walked three days under the sweltering sun into Uganda and later a refugee settlement. Stripped of all their belongings and wealth, they began to start over.
Patrick now calls Edmonton home but never forgot about the place that gave him refuge and a shot at a normal life.
“I gained a second chance to live and I got really to use it while providing for others and providing for myself,” he said while looking out over the Ugandan savannah, fixated toward the very road he walked roughly 25 years ago.
Kizehe is now helping others like Jolie Mutirabura who is running from the same violence alongside her four children. They walked for a week while traumatized and grief stricken.
“We ran through the gunshots and the children were in the middle of those,” the young mother told Global News while Kizehe interpreted as she sat on cement steps with all four of her children tucked in close beside her.
“It was really sad, I can’t be able to describe it because my husband had died so it was just a sad walk.”
Andrea Rayner (Children Home Coordinator)
In March, 2019 I was blessed to visit Uganda with Patrick and his team, this was my first trip to Africa. What a beautiful country! It was an eye-opening and life-changing trip. We first visited Entebbe, where we were welcomed with songs from the Giving Hope choir. In Entebbe we visited families and spent time at the Goshen church. We also spent time at Kyaka Il Refugee Settlement where | had the opportunity to meet with many children and to assist Teresa Hunter, a member of our team, in teaching a women's health class. We met with a group of widows who were determined to provide for their children and had started a small business. | realized these women and children are concerned by the same things we are concerned by in Canada. Am | a good wife, a good mother, a good daughter? Something isn't right with my health, how can | fix it? How do | provide for my family? I'm in a bad situation how do | get out? I'm in a good situation, how do | hang onto it? During our trip | was reminded of the Beatles song, / Get by with a Little Help from My Friends. Now | have friends 13,000 miles away! | travelled to the other side of the world to realize we are all looking for the same things, we are having the same conversations, and feeling the same emotions. A wound, regardless of how deep, needs healing. Meeting and spending time with such wonderful, giving people has helped me to see the needs of those around me more clearly. Now it's time for me to help my friends. We hope to return to Uganda soon. We are planning to open a children's home that will accommodate 24 children and three adults in the beginning of 2020.
Murray H (Director / Co-choir)
On my visit to many two room shacks of families that were moved from the refugee camp into the city by Giving Refugees Hope in Uganda, the living conditions of Jen and her three children were much less than bare minimum any human being should have to bare, its consisted of a rusty metal stairs outside to the level of her residence ( if you can call it that, at the small landing , a rusty gate ( for a door ) where she was hand washing her family clothes in an old plastic basin in an open area about 5 feet wide and about 7 feet long with and where to stand. A Blanket instead of a door was the entrance to their one room living eating and sleeping area (about 10 feet wide by about 7 long) all four of them slept on concreate floor (the only furniture in that room was 2 crude home made small benches). I was very humbled witnessing these crude conditions everyday (may be more than once) she would drag up these metal stairs their 5 gallon yellow water can ( probably weighing about 60 pounds) for drinking and washing clothes. I cant even imagine what we all take for granted! no running water, no bathroom, no table to eat at, no chairs or coach, no counter to prepare a meal at and no food insight! Not even the bare minimum. I have never witnessed such poverty outside a refugee camp. She smiled and invited us in and we sat on the crude little benches yet, in all this she was very welcoming and hospitable for our visiting her and her family since our visit Jenn and her family moved into a ground level house with a mattress and her children attends a school close by getting two meals a day and uniform each. What a great improvement to all of their lives, we thank God for all who made this reality Jenn and her family know leaving in the safe environment.
Jennifer Banas (Medical Counselor & Representative)
It was such an honor to be back in Uganda in March after being away for more than 10 years. This time, I was there in the capacity of pastor and counsellor. The time spent with the families in Kampala and in the camps had a tremendous impact on me. The people truly became family to me, and I carry them in my heart and memory now. I walked away very sure of how to move forward as an organization to support the refugees well, and how to give them hope for their futures.
Life as a refugee is the most difficult. In terms of vulnerable populations, they are truly the most vulnerable. After fleeing war, abuse, terror and poverty, they land in the refugee camp. They often only come with the clothes on their backs, traumatized and malnourished. Once in the camp, they are handed a machete, a few bags of food and a tent and are told to clear land where they will live in their tents. Often, refugees live in the camps for many years, even decades. There is no clean water, minimal access to food, and most distressing, very little medical care. Mothers told me story after story of giving birth on the side of the road as they attempted to walk to the only medical clinic, which is 70km away. Those who are ill from Malaria, Typhoid, and Cholera/diarrhea (due to unclean water and unsanitary living conditions) cannot manage to make the distance due to weakness. Women and children are especially vulnerable as, the walk to the clinic often is unsafe. I had women of all ages begging me to help find a resolution to this.
What amazed me was the level of resilience, hope and gratitude that was present in the people despite their immense challenges. They welcomed us with open arms, thanked us for giving of our time and resources and were buoyed by our promises of building a medical clinic right next to the camp. We had the honor of breaking ground and seeing the first bit of soil turned over in preparation for the foundation to be laid. It was a momentous occasion; I could envision all the mommas giving birth in the safe, well-equipped maternity ward. I felt encouraged at the thought of all the malaria patients receiving meds and nutrients while they stayed in the overnight beds. I cannot wait till we can offer trauma counselling in the therapy rooms. Imagine the impact the operation theater will have on those who have not had proper care for their wounds. The quality of life in the camp will increase powerfully due to presence of this medical clinic. It will be a source of health, but also a source of hope.
As we move forward in the building of the clinic, donations are welcomed. We have successfully completed Phase I of the building project; the Foundation Stage. Stage II brings us the walls and roof. I’m feeling both eager and anxious to see the clinic built and operational. I’m acutely aware of the lives that are lost every day that the clinic remains unbuilt. As one who walked within the camp and heard the stories of the people, I am so grateful to you for your giving towards our phase II. Every bit you give brings hope for the future; thank you!