ABC journalist and Compass presenter Kumi Taguchi recently travelled to Uganda, a country in the grip of an escalating refugee crisis. During her visit she saw UNHCR’s relief work firsthand. Kumi was particularly taken by the experiences of the young refugees she met, who are trying to find a future for themselves after fleeing their homes. 

What compelled you to visit Uganda?

Refugee issues are a passion of mine, and I have always wanted to see for myself the reality of the refugee situation and how UNHCR works on the ground. Here in Australia we take it for granted that we have a safe place to live and call home. For so many people caught up in conflict any sense of home is lost in an instant and it’s important we ensure their plight is not forgotten.

Here in Australia we take it for granted that we have a safe place to live and call home.

What struck you about the refugee communities there?

I visited two refugee settlements – Nakivale and Kyaka II. The one common word that I heard from every person I spoke to, was ‘youth’. There is an acute awareness of just how important it is to make sure young refugees are empowered to live a full life. 

“I met these young women learning hairdressing skills in Nakivale refugee settlement. There is no vocational training for young people in Kyaka II, however, so Australia for UNHCR is fundraising to build a training centre there." © Australia for UNHCR

Kumi visiting high school students in Kyaka II. “There were even the cheeky boys at the back, making jokes and creating havoc – no different to their peers in Australia!”

Young people want to be creative, stretch their boundaries, learn and have a future. When they have the right support they can achieve so much but available resources are now far outstripped by the sheer number of people taking refuge in Uganda.

What did you observe of Australia for UNHCR’s impact?

Firstly, the positivity, gratitude and awareness among refugees I met of what Australian donors have enabled. For example, Australia for UNHCR has funded a secondary school in Nakivale which has given thousands of children access to a high school education. To see what has come out of these initiatives is compelling – not only education and training but also hope, empowerment, dignity, joy. The same things we all strive for. Australia for UNHCR is now raising funds for a Vocational Training Centre in Kyaka II to provide trade skills for young adults.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much need there is in the world, but it was heart-warming to see so many signs of support

How has the trip changed your understanding of the refugee crisis?

Uganda is a unique case because of its refugee policy. Refugees are welcomed and given land, building materials and access to food. The government works closely with UNHCR and other partners with the desire to help refugees become self-reliant. The small, land-locked country is taking in so many people, especially in the north on the border with South Sudan. It must be such a huge relief for a refugee to arrive at that border and know they will have a safe place to be. Uganda is under huge pressure at the moment, with one million South Sudanese refugees having fled there, and about 1,800 more people arriving each day. The need for additional support has never been more urgent.

What would you say to Australia donors about the difference they can make?

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much need there is in the world, but it was heart-warming to see so many signs of support: houses, businesses, families, laughter, play, education – and much of it made possible by donations from Australians. Many times I was told by refugees how moved they were that “people we don’t know care enough to help us”. There is a deep appreciation for the assistance – as one person said so beautifully, “thank you for making us feel important again”.

With your support, Australia for UNHCR will build a Vocational Training Centre in Kyaka II refugee settlement in Uganda.

These refugee girls are putting their creative skills to use in a dance troupe. 

Read more about how you can transform the lives of thousands of young refugees. 

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