Reflecting on the effect of the pandemic in breaking the trust among the refugee population and the role Xavier Project has played to bring about change in the life of the refugees, there comes a point where one must consider the responsibility of humanitarian leadership. This is not an easy task and can weigh on a person and influence their thinking, yet there must be a connection to one’s inner guidance when thinking about how to be a trustworthy leader. Refugees face huge pressures: financial, unreliable weather, poor harvests, and disease. Refugees also face the increased pressure of conflict when they go for collecting the fire wood from the host community’s land. This period has been even more stressful for refugee communities and Imvepi Settlement has one of the highest rates of suicide. During this time of pandemic alone, five refugees committed suicide because they do not have enough to eat and other reasons such as the practice of witchcraft and realities of trauma. There are now six confirmed cases in Imvepi Settlement whilst in Arua (just 40 minutes from the settlement) there are now 197 cases of COVID-19, heightening the fear of what might happen if the virus continues to spread.
“She told me she hadn’t eaten for two days”
Working in Imvepi, I have witnessed a breakdown of the trust between refugee leaders and the youth leaders of the host community. If there is no trust, then hope becomes very difficult to sustain. It is of the utmost importance for us all to try to combat fear and strengthen our communities through trust. I myself am a refugee from Sudan and I am grateful for the privilege to work with Xavier Project. A core part of my work is asking myself what I can do for others. Recently, I was on my way to work when I met a child. This child was holding her stomach and seemed to be in pain. I asked her what was wrong and she told me her stomach hurts. I thought maybe the child had eaten food that wasn’t good. I asked her what happened and if she ate something bad. She told me she hadn’t eaten for two days. This has inspired me to donate half of my salary to go towards the purchasing of food for the community. I will donate half of my salary, as long as is needed during this time, until the situation improves and people can move and start to make money again to provide for their families.
This period of isolation offers us at Xavier Project the chance to look deeper into ourselves as an organisation, to find inspiration from books, from nature, from prayer. There is a chance to step back and reflect on where we are going with our work and as individuals. Xavier Project is using this opportunity for creativity and innovation. Some staff have suggested films we could create, others are exploring new audio productions, and investigating how best to tell a story of change. Xavier Project does not break the trust by turning away from the calls from the community during a time of the crisis. I believe we should not preach philosophy to a hungry stomach, but give it food. To reduce the stress and build the trust, Xavier Project started distributing basic needs to the most venerable refugees’ population. In addition, Xavier Project has issued a series of audio podcasts on secondary education as well as life-skills. We have now recorded over 400 podcasts. The podcasts include psycho-social support that makes it easier for listeners to face life challenges. It was intended to provide refugee individuals with the skills needed for them to better participate in their local communities. Talking to some of the community members to get their reaction toward this production, one of the refugee youth representatives stated, ‘’These course of life-skills audio production have helped us to manage strong feelings like anger and fear, deal more effectively with risk and threatening situations such as COVID-19, build good relationships with other people, communicate constructively in difficult situations, while being true to yourself, respecting other people as well as understanding why conflict happens. It’s very helpful indeed!”
“Xavier Project does not lecture CBOs members on how to resolve their challenges”
During my time at Xavier Project we have built solid partnership with 12 refugee community-based organizations (CBOs) across 6 locations in Kenya and Uganda; including Kakuma Refugee Camp, Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement, Nairobi, Kampala and Imvepi Refugee Settlement where I am currently based. Xavier Project does not see refugees as victims but consider them to be the experts, with the knowledge and expertise to understand the specific needs to their communities. Xavier Project recognises the experience and expertise of the community leaders by maintaining a humble attitude. Xavier Project does not lecture CBOs members on how to resolve their challenges, but instead listens to their viewpoints, takes them seriously, and respects them as a human being with contributions to make to their communities. As a result of this approach, the community truly owns the program.
During this time of COVID-19, community workers have taken the lead in monitoring and implementing projects in the settlement and inform the program manager on project implementation progress. In my view, building trust with the community, involving the community in the decision-making process, and trusting the community members to implement the program has led to the sustainability of Xavier Project in all its operations. I’m proud to work alongside such dedicated team members at Xavier Project and am proud of the work we do to support the communities we work with.
Donate to our COVID-19 appeal now, to help the refugee communities we are partnered with thrive, despite the challenges.