Transcending the Fate of the Refugee Experience
Featured in New Film 'Sauti' -
by Annette Walker
Although Favourite Regina spent her childhood and teenage years in a refugee settlement in Uganda (East Africa), she has broken many barriers imposed by that stark existence.
A scholarship recipient and college graduate who was an exchange student in Paris, Favourite was invited last year to speak at a United Nations program. She also is featured in a new film, 'Sauti', which focuses upon the refugee phenomenon. She speaks 6 African languages including Swahili as well as English and some French.
This contrasts with the reality for many who grow up in refugee settlements where secondary schools often do not exist. Furthermore, there is a tendency for more boys than girls to complete whatever schooling is available.
Favourite was one of 4 girls in her settlement to complete high school and go to college.
In July she came to the United States as part of a Golden Bridge program in Boulder, Colorado. She also participated in events in Vermont and Texas. Before returning to Uganda in August, Favourite was a speaker at a screening of 'Sauti', an event sponsored by the Colorado Committee on Africa and the Caribbean and held at The Mercury Cafe in Denver.
The film 'Sauti', which means 'Voice" in the Swahili language, was produced by the Boulder-based NeeNee Productions and is directed by Gayle Nosal.
Born in Rwanda which underwent a genocide beginning in 1994, Favourite fled with her family to the Congo. Returning briefly to Rwanda, but finding the conditions inhospitable, the family made its way to the Kywangali Refugee Camp in Uganda.
Kywangali was established in 1996 when the area was mostly forest and bush. The refugees had to get involved in clearing the land and growing food, for which they were given seeds.
Most families survive on subsistence agriculture, carry water from borehole pumps, lack electricity and are sometimes afflicted by a variety of health issues.
Since they are from traditional African societies, girls over sixteen years of age are encouraged to get married.
"People think there is something wrong with a young girl who is not yet married," said Favourite. "I thought about the cooking and what might happen if there were a baby," she continued. "I decided that there was nothing I can do for a man if I get married now."
She is the oldest child in her family and in the film describes her family unit. "My father emphasized education, she said." "He sold everything he planted, such as peanuts, beans and rice to pay for my school fees," she continued.
"He also transported me 62 kilometers to school on his bicycle. Later he insisted that I learn how to drive a motorcycle. For many people a girl riding a motorcycle is almost a sin," she laughed. "My father insisted that I learn how to prepare for the future," she continued.
Favourite's father passed away before she completed high school, and she feels responsible for her mother and younger siblings who still live in the Kyangwali Refugee Camp.
Currently, she has two main tasks. First is her commitment to the people, especially children and youth, at Kyangwali. She mentors and is involved in educational programs.
Second is her commitment to Africa. She is an active member to CIYOTA (Coburwas International Youth Organization to Transform Africa), an organization created by African refugee youth. Its mission is to expand educational programs and generally help displaced children and youth prepare for their future.
Favourite works with secondary school students in a CIYOTA program at Kyangwali. According to their research, 50% of African refugees are under the age of 18. With little access to education, which hurts their employment possibilities, their future is bleak and makes them dependent upon receiving different forms of aid.
"My work is based on the concept of giving-back," said Favourite.
People like Favourite are needed not only in Africa, but globally. According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement in recorded history. An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from their homes due to political conflict and persecution. Over half are under the age of 18.
Over 10 million people are stateless and, for all practical purposes, have no recognized nationality. This situation denies them access to basic rights, such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.
Editor's Note: Information about the film 'Sauti' can be accessed at www.sautifilm.org
This article appeared in the September 2017 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum.