An Interview With Benson Ocen - Founder/Director of I Live Again Uganda
Interviewer-Tricia DeBoer, Partner Representative
I Live Again Uganda (ILA) is celebrating its 14th anniversary on the 25th of March. Fourteen years of developing an extraordinarily successful program that helps people who’ve been traumatized find restoration and healing.
This interview with Benson unwraps ILA’s fabulous dreams for The Potter's House, a project in which IAFR Canada is both a thrilled and grateful partner.
How did I Live Again Uganda begin?
I Live Again Uganda began because of the war in northern Uganda, where many children were abducted and forced to become soldiers. They returned back to their families with a lot of trauma. Every person in northern Uganda became a victim of trauma, because of the war.
After surviving the war, we needed to help give people hope, healing and identity through trauma counseling. So in 2008, the Lord birthed in us a call to start this ministry. I Live Again is a way to restore life back to the people who had lost hope.
The Lord's Resistance Army insurgency, the war that you have referred to, that lasted for more than 20 years. The war is over now. Do you think that it still affects the region and the people today?
Yes, the war is over. But the effect of war still continues because of the trauma. It will live on in the lives of people for decades. Today we see many children that are ages 16, 17, 18 - they were born in the Internally Displaced People camps.
The effect of separation of families still continues. So in a nutshell, I'm saying the effect of war is still evident in the lifestyle of the people of northern Uganda.
Tell me a little bit about the moment that you chose to start I Live Again Uganda. What was that moment? What was that idea?
It started through a clinical psychologist from Australia, who came and did two years of research on mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder. I was part of the research team. The research was published in the British Journal for Clinical Psychology with evidence that people in northern Uganda are traumatized.
After two years, the research was done, but we still had millions of traumatized people in northern Uganda. Over 1.2 million people were affected in northern Uganda, because of the war. It was at that moment that I sat and I thought, "Will it just end like that? Something must happen."
And at that moment I said, "God help me." God talked to me clearly saying, "There must be restoration in the life of the people." He gave me the name "I Live Again" from what I learned from the research.
Today, I Live Again Uganda is starting to expand and is building The Potter's House. What is the vision of this project and how was it inspired?
I Live Again Uganda realized that the need for mental health is overwhelming across the entire globe. There is a rise in trauma because of war, because of natural disasters, the increase in refugee displacement- over 82 million people have been displaced from their own country because of different factors. One or two people cannot go across all these countries to help in the healing of trauma.
The idea of The Potter's House came through prayer when the Lord spoke to us, of a place where people can come together, learn and go and help in different places around the world. It would make expansion in bringing healing to victims of trauma easier. So, The Potter's House idea came to help people come do training in trauma counseling and to learn from one another. To ask and understand what has worked in different countries.
Sometimes, when helping trauma victims, frontline workers can become traumatized. So, we also wanted to think of how we can bring frontline workers together, to receive refreshment, get more training, get their own healing and be ready to go back and serve again.
How did you come up with the name The Potter's House?
It was through a gathering of ILA staff. We were at the land that the Lord had given us. We were dreaming about the land and wondering if we should build a school to help children. Or should we do vocational training or maybe an Agricultural Training Center? What would it be? We kept dreaming. But the Lord spoke to us and asked us, "Is that My desire or your own desire?"
So, we went to prayer, and as we were praying together, the Lord spoke to us through the words in Jeremiah. The Lord told Jeremiah to go to The Potter's House. Then He asked Jeremiah, "What do you see?" Jeremiah explained how he saw the mud that was being formed in the hands of the potter. The Lord spoke to us clearly and told us that we are people who have been victims of trauma. But God Himself would mold us to make us new again. He showed us that pottery is very much therapeutic.
God said, "This place shall be a place of encounter, a place that can be called The Potter's House, a place for remolding us to be a better person and become who we are called to be."
What do you mean by it being "a place of encounter"? What does that phrase mean?
A place of encounter is a place where you would encounter healing, you will encounter hope and you will encounter your identity in God.
Who do you hope will come to The Potter's House?
I hope the people who will join us at The Potter's House would be
So how far along is The Potter's House in being built? Where are things at?
Clearing the land: We are in the process of clearing the land. It's currently the dry season here in northern Uganda, which is the best season to do that.
The roads: The district engineer has come and put together the information we need to hire excavators, bulldozers and trucks in order to build the road network. We are excited about that.
Water: We have already worked through an engineering company that will help us in drilling water or a well on site. We are excited about that too!
So after that, what's next?
Buildings: After that, the construction of the training centre, a sports centre and the security houses would begin.
Soccer field: Uganda is known for soccer or football. In building a good soccer field we can easily engage with young people and the surrounding community of The Potter's House site. It's important to us that we not only support those that are coming to us - but also the community around us. We are so excited about the football pitch that will be put there!
How do you feel The Potter's House will impact the world?
The Potter's House will have a global impact. It will bring information concerning trauma and mental health to the world. The training would bring people from across the Great Lakes Region of Africa: South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, DR Congo, Rwanda and the neighbouring countries. They will come together and learn and they will go back to their countries and bring impact. They will be transformed and bring healing and bring hope to their community. That is very, very key.
Beyond that, The Potter's House will be a hub where people will come from different parts of the world to share what has worked in their perspective of cultures in their countries and what did not work, and how we can come together in the mental health challenge that is huge in the world today.
What difference does the partnership with IAFR Canada make to you and to the dreams you have for The Potter's House?
Our partnership with IAFR is very important to us. We cannot and do not want to do what we do alone. The Body of Christ is so important.
There are things that IAFR can do to bring the vision of the Potter's House to fruition that we cannot do. The role IAFR plays in sharing this vision, helping and inviting others to join us, networking and praying and encouraging is important.
We have a heart and calling to bring healing and hope to the nations through Trauma Counseling. We simply cannot do what we do without our friends at IAFR Canada.
Do you have any further comments about The Potter's House you'd like to share?
Anything left for me to say would be to request people to
Help us see that this land is developed. I desire to see the will of the Lord in this place. I know that at the right time the right people will come and join hands to see that The Potter's House is erected for the glory of the Lord.
Our phone has been ringing off the hook all month.
And that is just today!
Our existing shelter systems are just not working. Toronto has the largest homeless shelter system in Canada, yet all of their city run shelters are full to capacity and turning people away in droves. The refugee-specific shelters are full too. It’s the same situation in all the major cities across our country. It felt like a crisis before the pandemic, but now the cracks that already existed are gaping wider and wider and exposing a system that is completely falling apart.
One of the reasons that shelters are constantly full is that people have nowhere to move to. Have you seen the cost of renting an apartment lately? $1,450 a month. That’s the average cost to rent a 1-bedroom apartment in our midsize city in Ontario. It’s even more in Toronto. And in Vancouver it is a whopping $2,200! What do you do when you are a newly arrived refugee waiting for a work permit and your entire monthly income is only $733? There are no easy answers.
What can we do? Do local churches have anything to offer in response to the current housing crisis? IAFR Canada thinks so! We dream of seeing churches becoming vitally involved in both initial short-term housing solutions as well as safe, affordable long-term options.
You might be surprised at some of the ways that churches can make a difference. And you don’t have to be a big, wealthy church to get in on the action. There is a whole spectrum of opportunities for churches of all shapes and sizes to make a difference.
When the house next door to a small church in the east end of Hamilton went up for sale they recognized it as a unique opportunity and decided to buy it. After considering numerous options for how to use it, they chose to rent it out to a family from Haiti who was going through the refugee claim process. They rented it to this family at below market rental rates which allowed them to get on their feet while they were working hard to get Canadian credentials and find suitable work. The church became good neighbours for this family and many dropped by to get to know them. The kids loved running next door to the church for Kids Club and Sunday School. The three or so years that this family lived there gave them the stability they needed to begin their life in Canada.
On a bigger scale, a number of churches in Ontario are partnering with Indwell, a Christian housing charity, to transform part of their properties into affordable housing units. The Baptist church in the neighbourhood where I live recently built a new church worship centre that also includes 45 units of affordable housing. That’s 45 people who now have a beautifully designed, safe, affordable home with built in community support! That’s a pretty big deal
Let me share a few ideas to spark your imagination for ways your church might respond in the midst of this housing crisis we find ourselves in-
What innovative responses might God want your church to pursue?
IAFR is committed to helping churches grow in understanding God’s expectations for His people in how we treat the forcibly displaced. We delight in seeing local churches discover ways to come alongside refugees in ways that uniquely fit who they are as a congregation. So if the Spirit is nudging your church to explore ways that you can be part of making a positive difference, please contact us. We would love to dream, pray, and discern possibilities with you!
Today we helped a young refugee couple and their infant son move into an apartment after a three month stay in a Host home. They sent us a text: “Thank you very much for helping us in this beautiful country of very kind people… after everything my family has been through, today is a very nice day to dream again.”
Amen. May we all begin to dream again.
Rob Perry recently sat down with our board chair, Dr Norman Musewe. Listen in on their conversation.
IAFR Canada’s board chair Norman Musewe was born in Harare, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). After medical school in Zimbabwe, he moved to England due to the war and trained in Pediatrics, before finally settling in Canada. In 1984 he was trained as a Pediatric Cardiologist at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, where he remains to this day.
When describing his spiritual journey, Norman tells of years of internal turmoil prior to 1992 when he began to follow Jesus. It is this faith in Christ which defines his life, choices, and character to this day.
Africa in My Heart
Another defining characteristic in Norman’s life is his passion for Africa. Norman visits Zimbabwe and many other countries in Africa regularly. When asked where this passion for Africa comes from, he says,
“It is not just because I was born there, but because Africa has been born in my heart! There is something which is difficult to explain about the beauty and vibrancy of Africa and its people. I identify with the poorest of the poor in Africa because I know what hunger and disease feels like.”
He continues: “As a Cardiologist I go to different parts of Africa to conduct clinics and facilitate shipments of medical supplies from Health Partners International Canada.* I look forward to being more involved in the welfare of the displaced in Africa.”
Mission Powered by Faith
Norman holds his credentials and experience with humility. When asked how he prioritizes all his various involvements, he says,
“There is a hierarchy…
Norman’s prayer for IAFR Canada
“My prayer for IAFR is that we will connect with more and more congregations in Canada to foster outreach to the refugees that are ‘lucky’ enough to get here. But that in the process, I pray that we expend more resources and energy in reaching out to those who cannot get here, in the many refugee camps, because that is where I think the real work is - bringing Christ and hope and new life to those trapped in these camps. I also hope we will recruit more people to our staff and board who have themselves experienced displacement.”
*Health Partners International Canada (HPIC) works to supply medicine where most needed around the world. IAFR Canada, along with IAFR USA and our partners on the ground, is working with HPIC to provide Humanitarian Medical Kits of essential medicines. Norman’s relationship with HPIC helped open doors for us to begin doing so.
Written by Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan, Open Homes Hamilton Team Leader
A heavily pregnant mother , looking for a safe place to bring her baby into the world.
A volatile world marked by oppression, refugee crises, and uncertainty.
A refugee journey into an unknown and culturally different land to protect the life of her child. A life marked by prayer and dependence on God and the hospitality of strangers.
No, I'm not talking about the story of Jesus' arrival, though I very well could be.
I'm talking about a recently arrived Guest of Open Homes Hamilton (a program of IAFR Canada), who arrived in her host home in early November, 8 months pregnant.
She was worried for her child, of course. Travelling at 8 months pregnant is not easy, whether by plane, as in Carolina’s voyage, or on foot (likely the situation of Mary the mother of Jesus).
Flying at 8 months and going through a stressful interview after declaring refugee status at the airport had caused her amniotic fluid to leak. She was rushed to the hospital and given a date for an ultrasound--but instead of allowing her to attend her ultrasound, immigration officials put her in a 2 week COVID quarantine. She was alone, scared, and anxious about her partner’s safety.
As she sat in that lonely hotel room, praying and worrying about her baby, Carolina had called several refugee shelters to find space. But as the borders reopen to international travellers, the refugee houses are beginning to fill up.
Thankfully she is now safely settled into an Open Homes host home with her partner and is waiting to give birth. Though she is far from her family, and carries the trauma of the refugee journey and the experiences that pushed them to flee, she has a safe place to bring her child into the world and a Kinship Circle of volunteers to support her.
In Carolina’s native Spanish, “dar a luz” is the verb for giving birth. Translated literally, it means “to give to the light.”
Mary too was about to "dar a luz"...to the Light of the world. (John 1) And Mary too, found a safe place to give birth through the hospitality of strangers.
This Christmas, may the gritty reality of that first Christmas resound for you anew.
By Colleen Howat, a member of The Peoples Church in Toronto, and one of the leaders of Friendship Class.
It was a sunny, crisp fall day in October.
Perfect for our walk.
One that we’ve been talking about for a few weeks in Friendship Class (a special place for differently-abled adults to worship God together).
Pointing out these countries on a large globe helped us to see how far some people have had to come in order to find peace and safety. Many had to leave their homes and families and friends and jobs due to war, persecution and more.
Our friends were deeply impacted to learn of these people’s struggles; one woman couldn’t wait to ask God for special protection and food for the children. And then when our friends in class heard that we could help them out by walking and raising money too, that’s what we did! We called family, neighbours and friends to ask for their support. And they did so generously!!
The Walk for Refuge day was here! Two of our friends came on Wheeltrans. One who uses a walker arrived very early and another was picked up late, so ambled up the hill to catch up with us. Two young men from our class came with their moms. Another young person walked with her sister. All of us graciously walking together, supporting one another’s different capabilities for our adventure.
Once we all gathered, we talked more about why we were doing this… to give hope and peace and a welcoming to a new home for those who had given up everything. Then up Bayview Avenue from Tyndale College to The Peoples House we walked, pausing along the way to view pictures of children in Uganda and families in Malawi. Each time we stopped, we prayed for their safety and provision.
It was beautiful to see and hear the concern our friends had for the people we had been discussing. Perhaps they have a keen sense of the need to belong, how it feels to be left out and misunderstood themselves and their hearts longed to reach out.
Once we arrived at The Peoples House, we were greeted by smiling residents and helpful volunteers. We sang “Never Give Up” (how appropriate!) and thanked God together. We all enjoyed lots of hot dogs and some delicious homemade almond squares!
Our friends said they had so much fun walking and meeting the people who had travelled so far. It was a blessing to see and hear people we’d just met, getting to know one another better over a meal. When it got a little chillier, some of us gathered inside around a large table and continued to share and meet more refugees who live in The Peoples House.
We are so grateful to have been able to join up and connect like this. It felt kind of like family. And families share and care for one another, just like we did!
Written by Aaron White, 24-7 Prayer Canada and part of the IAFR Canada team.
“Unless you have lived there, it is impossible to imagine.”
These are the words of Sayed Towfiq, a 27 year old Afghani man who came as a refugee to Canada nearly three years ago.
As he describes his life’s journey to me, it almost is impossible to imagine. His father, a doctor, had to flee Afghanistan with his family in 1999 because the Taliban had taken control of the country. Sayed’s family are Shia Muslim, a targeted minority under Taliban rule. They had endured in their home country for three years, but eventually his father was caught and jailed for a year. When he was released he was told that if they did not leave, his family would be killed. And if they ever came back, they would be killed.
So they fled, first to Pakistan, then to Iran, where Sayed and his family lived for the next seventeen years. In Iran they could speak the language and practice their faith in peace. But, says Sayed, “Iran is not good with immigrants.” Immigrants cannot own property, cannot even purchase a phonecard, and definitely cannot get permanent residency. Every year his father had to renew his temporary residence card and his right to work as a doctor. His father’s essential work meant that the family would also be allowed to stay in the country.
That changed when Sayed turned 22. At that age Iran determines that the son can no longer be covered by the father’s temporary residence permit, and would not issue Sayed with one either. They told him he must go back to Afghanistan, which he knew would end with his death.
So in 2018 Sayed began a long and dangerous journey through Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. Each border crossing was a risk, but less of a risk than returning to a country in the chaos of war. The journey took him a full year, until he was finally able to board a flight to Vancouver, Canada in 2019. He spent the first two weeks in immigration detention, until his family were able to send through his documentation. Few if any countries will offer a travel visa to someone with an Afghanistan passport, but having arrived in Canada, he was able to make his claim as a refugee.
Sayed spoke no English when he arrived, but is now able to converse and to express his great desires. For himself, he seeks to be educated, to learn English better, and to carry on his work as a carpenter. He says that the situation in Canada is so much better for refugees and immigrants than anywhere else he has been, and he is incredibly thankful. He now awaits his permanent residence card.
But his desires, hopes and dreams are not primarily for himself.
His family is still in Iran, and two months ago tragedy struck. HIs father, the doctor who had been caring for Covid-19 patients in Iran, himself contracted Covid-19 and died. This is devastating to the family, but also carries another deadly consequence: the covering Sayed’s mother and two sisters had received from their father was removed upon his death. They have been given six months to leave Iran and return to Afghanistan.
As Sayed tells me this, the pain and fear are clearly written upon his face. “Return to Afghanistan, totally controlled by the Taliban? No, this is impossible.”
Sayed explains the danger. In the first place, their family was told they would be killed if they returned. But even if this were not the case, Sayed paints a picture of how dangerous it is for women right now in Afghanistan. “In Canada, it is good. Men and women work together. Women have rights. In Afghanistan, no, this is not allowed. Everything is for men, women have no power.” He tells me again that unless I had lived there, I simply could not imagine how it is. His mother and sisters have no home to go to, no means of support, no men left in the family who could possibly help them. And they now have four months left before they are sent back.
The UN does not have a strong presence in Iran, a closed country, so they cannot get help there. When Sayed asked for advice from his friends who had also been refugees, they told him, “Talk to the Church. They can tell your story, and maybe someone can help. Maybe a Church can sponsor your mother and sisters, and keep them from danger.”
This is that story, that cry for help. It is true, I cannot imagine the situation Sayed and his family are in. I cannot imagine the hopelessness and fear, the impossible choices, how I would feel and what I would do if presented with the same situation. Sayed told me that he is praying, and asked me to pray as well, which I do with a good will. Will you pray too?
More information about Canada's current response to Afghan refugees: READ HERE
Written by Rob Perry, who recently spent three months in Greece, in Mavrovouni Refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, providing English schooling for elementary-school-aged children.
At first, the children came for classes in tents which were identical to those that they lived in. Part of each of my classes included singing. I hoped to teach the children some English through songs, like Hello, Goodbye by the Beatles or Lean on Me by Bill Withers.
I still smile when I think of walking through the camp and hearing one particular 10-year-old girl from Afghanistan singing, “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.”
But due to COVID-19 fears, classes were cancelled for the last half of my time there. During this time we took homework tent-to-tent to each student. At first I was really disappointed, but this challenge wound up providing wonderful opportunities to connect with students individually, and also to get to know their families.
What prompted me to go to Lesvos?
Five years ago, I was privileged to join our partners for a visit to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. I remember how inspirational it was to see churches bring hope and help to the residents of the camp. And how humbling and uplifting it was to hear the incredible choirs in the refugee camp churches. However, the most impactful part of the visit for me was an hour I spent with about 30 youth from one of the refugee churches.
The recurring theme of this conversation, the thing most on these young peoples’ minds, was education. They dreamt of opportunities for higher education, but for many if not most, this would be a very difficult goal to achieve. NGOs and churches were working hard to offer educational opportunities and programming. However, in their setting, education remains a very challenging aspiration.
Since this visit five years ago, the importance of education in the refugee world has been reaffirmed for me many times, particularly with my time on Lesvos. For these children and their families, education is a bright hope, a positive way to spend time during monotonous and challenging days in the camp – but more than that – education is a key to having a fresh and positive start wherever in the world displaced people eventually wind up. This is true in Greece, as well as for the teenagers in Dzaleka.
And the same can also be said for young people who are impacted through IAFR’s other partnerships, such as the Beirut Nazarene church’s amazing school program (STEP), or the African Hope Learning Centre in Cairo, supporting Sudanese refugee children, to whom we have sent support personnel.
At IAFR Canada we continue to prayerfully discern where in the world God wants us to be, with whom he would like us to partner, and what major priority pillars he would like us to erect.
We are in the early days of discerning what our engagement with education for displaced people around the world can and should look like. We would love to invite you to join us in prayer as we discern how we can best partner with others and/or create our own initiatives to help meet this vital need.
Won’t you join with us in responding to the needs and desires of displaced children and youth? They are hoping and dreaming for a good future. They believe, as we do, that education is key to such a future. We at IAFR are enthusiastic about being a part of this solution.
Footnote: The partners Rob went to Dzaleka with were There is Hope and IAFR US. World University Service of Canada and There is Hope are the NGO’s doing educational assistance for residents of Dzaleka. On Lesvos, Rob was grateful to work with Beyond Borders and EuroRelief.
Written by Jacob Mau, with Rob Perry. *
In 2013, Rob Perry and his ministry colleagues at The Peoples Church in Toronto began praying about how to support forcibly displaced people. Today they are fulfilling that vision through IAFR Canada, a ministry with over a dozen staff leading partnerships in six countries along the refugee highway. God used a Refugee Highway Partnership North America (RHPNA) event to spark the connections that became IAFR Canada. Here’s how it happened.
“At the beginning, we were really focused on camps,” Rob says. “We had backgrounds in urban ministry and church planting. We were praying about maybe helping start churches or some kind of prayer tent in refugee camps. But we didn’t have any idea how one even accesses those places. It seemed like an impossibility. We were asking, ‘Where would the money come from? What would it look like? What’s God’s timing?’”
In early 2016, the group took an initial step much closer to home than a distant camp. They formed a refugee housing ministry in Toronto called People’s House. That summer, Rob and several others working at the house attended the RHPNA Roundtable. They met Tom Albinson, one of the early visionaries of the RHP, and founder of the International Association for Refugees.
“Here we had this guy talking about partnering with churches in refugee camps, partnering with Christian organizations--basically what we’d all been praying about for three years--without even realizing it,” says Rob. “We discovered an organization that we didn’t know existed, but seemed to resonate very strongly in our hearts.”
Over the next year, Rob and his team did vision trips and meetings with Tom and others from IAFR. One was a trip to Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, where Rob learned there were already 60 indigenous churches providing care to the community. It was there the vision for IAFR Canada began to take shape.
Today IAFR Canada — a sister to IAFR U.S. — consists of members of the original prayer group of 2013, plus many others who’ve joined the team’s vision. IAFR works with organizations and churches who are supporting forcibly displaced people in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Uganda, Malawi, and Canada.
“IAFR Canada would definitely not exist in its current form if we hadn’t met Tom and his team at the RHPNA Roundtable in 2016,” says Rob. “I’m sure God would have found a way to lead us where he wanted us to go, but it would have looked very different. God was amazing in bringing us an incredible team, the right people at the right time.”
* This story was originally shared through the Refugee Highway Partnership, North America. IAFR Canada is part of this invaluable network, prayerfully connecting with each other for the good of people who are forcibly displaced.
A joking conversation about cleaning bathrooms during the Ride for Refuge was the beginning of Darlene’s journey as a companion with Open Homes Hamilton.
“We were walking in the Ride for Refuge last year and my friend Mary* was saying what a pain it is to clean four bathrooms. Well, we were walking with Katie [a member of the Open Homes leadership team], who had just been telling us about home hosting for refugee claimants. So I said, ‘You could host! And I’ll be a companion.’”
The spur of the moment idea soon turned into a reality: a group of friends from a Meeting House home church attended a volunteer orientation, submitted their police checks and paperwork, and waited for a call that there was a refugee claimant who was a good fit for Mary’s home.
Now, almost a year later, they’re not only gearing up for another Ride--they’re also actively supporting a young refugee claimant from Ethiopia named Abel*. Mary is the host, and the other members of the group are companions: volunteers who accompany newly arrived refugee claimants and offer friendship and support with everyday settlement needs like bus orientation, job searches, and community connections. Open Homes Hamilton is a Hamilton-based program of IAFR Canada.
Darlene had been volunteering at the Ride’s Hamilton location for years, and was glad there was a way to continue to participate, even during a pandemic. Teams can do the classic bike or walk, or they can choose from a range of “freestyle” options, from sewing to baking to reading to just about anything you can imagine.
“Abel* is a wonderful young man. We’re his 4 mamas--though we try not to mother him too much!” says Darlene.
They’ve helped Abel get connected to community beyond his 4 mamas--from volunteering at a street mission every week to connecting with another young man who was supported by Open Homes Hamilton. That connection is proving invaluable, not only for the friendship of someone closer to his own age, but also for the support that he’s received in understanding the refugee hearing process.
“When he gets stressed out, I tell him, ‘We’re the warriors, we’ll be praying!’” says Darlene.
Last year’s Ride was an opportunity to do something positive in the midst of an overwhelming pandemic, and it led the team down a path they hadn’t imagined--but God had in store for them all the same.
This year, they’ve seen up-close the impact of their fundraising power on refugee claimants, and they’re ready and raring to Ride for Refuge again.
*Some names changed to protect confidentiality.
Laura Dobrowolski is the Executive Director of IAFR Canada and is looking forward to the day she can reschedule an in-person meeting with the I Live Again Uganda team.
This pandemic has impacted every part of the globe, but its impact in refugee camps has been especially challenging. Our partners at I Live Again Uganda (ILA) have continued to be present and to serve throughout this time. I interviewed them after the first wave, when everyone thought lock-downs were over. We are so very thankful for this partnership and the work they were able to continue doing throughout this tumultuous past year.
Q: At the beginning of the pandemic, countries started to close borders amid concerns of the spread of Covid. We flew IAFR staff home on extremely short notice and all our international trips were put on hold. I heard that most NGO’s left Uganda. Since your team is comprised of Ugandans, you were already home. It must have been really hard for your team! Can you tell us what happened in the refugee camp?
A: Many NGOs at the refugee settlement had to put a hold on operations. Some of them left. Others changed strategies in their services. It was a stressful and challenging time for NGOs.
Q: We know you had lots of challenges, including sickness in your team members and families, and more. What really impressed me about ILA was your ability to adapt. Can you tell me more about your response to the pandemic?
A: We gathered our leadership, prayed and considered how we can continue to serve our communities. We had to look at all the protocols and restrictions in place. We became a part of the COVID19 task force right away so that we would be aware of the situation in the communities we serve and provide our programs and services out of knowledge.
The need of washing of hands during the pandemic was essential and even mandated. Yet, many of those we serve were unable to purchase soap. We quickly recognized the need to distribute soap and sanitizer. We also provided some phone counseling.
We recognized early on that we need to reach the youth. We knew that they were being neglected. We wanted them to be knowledgeable and be safe during the pandemic.
We brought music in to bring awareness and education, to combat COVID19 and restore hope during the lockdowns. Music was a way that we could relate to the youth. The music would reach and get information out regarding pandemic protocols. It also kept us safely distanced and still providing support.
The level of teenage pregnancy increased due to the lockdown. Schools were closed. We also did radio talk shows on teenage pregnancy to bring awareness and education to the situation. We really encouraged youth to remain strong and full of hope through our programs.
Q: Did Covid spread in the camp? What was the impact of the virus there?
A: COVID19 didn’t spread in the refugee settlement. There were less than 10 cases of COVID19 in our settlement. We think the spread was stopped quickly because of restrictions and tracing of infections. The refugee community already understands that they must follow structures and rules. This understanding helped them adjust when restrictions were put in place.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add or comment on how this year has uniquely changed or impacted the work of ILA?
A: COVID19 has challenged us to rethink how we can serve in the midst of restrictions and a pandemic. Other NGOs were unable to pivot during this season. We are thankful that we were able to navigate this season and continue to provide much needed services to our communities.
June 7th Update: “Last night our President spoke, and we are now back into a 42 day lock-down. Schools closed immediately, travel between districts prohibited, curfews. Please keep us and those we serve in your prayer. Cases have risen and they are doing what they can to stop the spread.”
Please pray for the ILA Uganda team and everyone they serve.
It was hard to plan with so much uncertainty. Many of our programs were built around gathering in groups and this was not possible due to protocols and restrictions.
Our vision is to help people survive and recover from forced displacement. We do this together with the church, both globally, and locally in Canada.