Posted by Jackee Budesta Batenda on Aug 05, 2018

In this month’s series of inspiring Rotarians, we feature Paul Mushaho, founding member of the Rotaract Club of Nakivale established in a refugee settlement in Uganda to serve the refugee community. Paul is a refugee himself, forced to flee his country and family due to war and start a new life in the refugee camp in Uganda. Wave writer, Jackee Budesta Batanda,  brings us his story. 

Fleeing mai mai rebels and envious family members

When Paul Mushaho, 25, fled the insecurity in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2016, his journey would lead him to Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Western Uganda. Paul fled his home not only because of an impending danger from the Mai Mai rebel but also relatives who, envious of their family wealth, had attacked his family while he was at school. His parents were tortured and all their animals taken. 

Being the only boy in the family, Paul was seen as a threat and would seek revenge on behalf of his family. When the holidays started, a cousin warned him of the threat that awaited him back home and advised him to go somewhere safe, where no one knew him. 

Friends had told him that going to Uganda was the best option. There was a camp where friends from DRC lived and they said their life was good.   His journey to Uganda with only 50,000 Congolese francs, saw Paul taking short cuts in the bushes hiding from the main road. 

After travelling for about 18 days, Paul crossed into Uganda at the Bunagana border post, where the promise of safety lay. Coming to Uganda had its own shocks. New cultures. A new rainbow where people spoke English. He was thankful for his bi-lingual school where both English and French were taught. 

After explaining his reason for coming to Uganda with no travel documents, he took a bus to the Mbarara taxi park from where he then picked a taxi to Nakivale. As the taxi wove its way to Nakivale, Paul thought about the family he had not been able to say goodbye to. He prayed for the opportunity to make it in Uganda and be able to reunite with them when the time was ripe. 

His friends at Nakivale welcomed him and showed him the ropes of life in the refugee camp. They opened up their homes to him as he waited to register as a refugee; to be a person without a home, living in transit and hoping for change. 

Paul says, as a refugee, there are many opportunities that pass you by because you cannot qualify for them. Most opportunities are reserved for nationals. It takes ingenuity and creativity to survive in such settings. He studied his environment and decided the best way to serve the community was through opening up a money transfer service.  Continues on page 6.

Joining Rotary

The American Refugee Committee (ARC) mooted the idea of a Change Maker competition to challenge young people to support their communities with ideas. The Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister co-sponsored the competition. Paul was among the nominated change makers who travelled to Kampala for the event. 

At the event, he met with members of the Rotary fraternity including the late Sam F. Owori, Angela Eifert, a member of the Rotary Club of Roseville, and an ARC engagement officer. The idea to work with the change makers to form a Rotaract Club in the refugee settlement was initiated. Paul invited to lead the club, an invitation he quickly accepted. He started learning about Rotary so he could recruit his contemporaries in the camp. 

 “We are all here from different countries as refugees. We are united by our status as refugees. It is our nationality. If we can come together, we can see how we can improve our lives and improve our communities. We can motivate, we can encourage,” Paul said to the young people he reached out to in the refugee settlement. They embraced the idea and soon the Rotaract Club of Nakivale was formed and it started inviting speakers from Kampala, Mbarara, and also the USA to inspire and motivate them. 

Under his leadership, the Rotaract Club of Nakivale has carried out several community projects: fumigation at the refugee reception center, clearing weeds, and shortening the grass where the children play. They organized a sports gala for young girls and other activities targeting elderly in the camp, of 60 years and above.  

Most support in the camp goes to women and youth groups but no one supports the elderly. The Club has given the elderly soap and sugar and has had lunch with them to show them that they are appreciated and to glean from their experiences. The Club also donated 150 pairs of sunglasses to boda-boda cyclists to protect their eyes from sun, dust and flying insects as they work. They hope to provide marked jackets to the riders for easy recognition.  

The Rotaract Club has become a family for its members. 

Paul has seen his journey from an unknown young man seeking refuge in a new country to a young leader creating change in a place where there seems to be no hope. He urges young people to use their life challenges as a motivation for what they want to achieve in future.