Edmonton man, once a refugee in Uganda himself, returns to give hope to the displaced

Click to play video: 'Edmonton man returns to Uganda to help refugees in camp where he lived'
Edmonton man returns to Uganda to help refugees in camp where he lived
WATCH: An Edmonton man who fled DRC for Uganda as a teenager is supporting widows fleeing the same conflict. In our series Africa: Inside the Pearl, Jayme Doll is in Uganda to see his work and meet the people he is helping. – Jul 19, 2023

This is the second part of Jayme Doll’s Africa: Inside the Pearl series exploring conditions in the landlocked East African nation of Uganda. The first part, Fighting the stigma of disability in Uganda, is available HERE.

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.

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“I have a scar that is from the stone. People were just stoning us accusing us of not being citizens of the Congo.”

” 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.

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“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.

” I think it’s something a human being has to do, it’s a privilege and an honour to give back,” said Kizehe who founded Giving Refugees Hope in Uganda.

Jolie Mutirabura and her four children on the steps of their new home in Uganda after fleeing DRC. Global News/ Jayme Doll

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.

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“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.”

The family spent three years in the same refugee settlement where Patrick Kizehe once stayed with his family. Mutirabura said her experience in the settlement only added to her trauma.

“I was being sexually assaulted in the camp,” said Mutirabura, her words faint. ” It was very rough in the camp.”

Giving Refugees Hope in Uganda moved her into her first real home in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. Global News was there the day after she moved in.  It’s a small two-room home, but to Mutirabura and her family it’s a chance at a real life.

Uganda is home to 1,4 million refugees. Poverty remains high in the East African nation and the country is feeling the strain on its ability to provide resources.

“It puts a burden on the land, it puts a burden on these resources like water and electricity,” said Businge Emmanuel, a Ugandan government representative.

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Global Affairs Canada said the vast majority of refugees in Uganda rely on international humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. In 2022, Canada provided $5.4 million to help refugees in the country known as ‘The Pearl of Africa,’ but aid organizations said the need continues to balloon.

Kizehe believes education is key to success and his organization is helping to provide occupational training to widows in refuge settlements. He is living proof life can improve and is grateful to be able to help others along the way. 

Mutirabura is now a seamstress and is about to start her own business.

Jolie Mutirabura stands next to her sewing machine in her new home.

“I’m praying hard that my kids will keep on being well and they study well so life can improve,” she said, smiling now for the first time in the interview.

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