Refugee Woman of the Year 2017 in Uganda: Burundian community worker and student of public health

28-year old Bella Nshimirimana has dedicated her life to help other refugees through social work, dance and getting a second degree in public health. Nshimirimana lives in Kampala where she is taking care of her family of 14 members.

Bella Nshimirimana, the Refugee woman of the year in Uganda.

Bella Nshimirimana speaks excellent English and some Luganda. She has learned two new languages after she had to escape from Burundi four years ago. A social worker by profession, she is now getting a second degree in public health administration with the help of the Windle Trust -foundation. She wanted to get a degree in medicine to help other refugees. She feels, that although refugees do have free access to health care in Uganda, they often face problems such as the language barrier or even discrimination.

“The degree I am studying for, is not for me, it is for my community. I have been volunteering in translating at the hospitals and health care clinics, and I have seen language problems and other shortcomings, sometimes even discrimination. Refugees do not always get the treatment needed, or not in time”, she says.

Bella feels for the community, and she keeps herself busy. She has the skills to organize activities, and a will to help especially refugee youths to overcome the difficulties which refugee life brings them. She established a youth group called Mirror, a club for arts and crafts. Its main activity is dancing, and the group performs at functions in Kampala. Dancing in Mirror has become a spiritual home for many young members, but also an income generating activity. Bella has also helped Burundian youth to get scholarships to go back to school, and made sure, that all the children of her own family go to school and get the best grades.

Theme of year 2017: refugee women in the cities – surviving urban challenges

Nshimirimana is the sixth woman to be selected as the Refugee Woman of the Year in Uganda. The title is given together by Finnish Refugee Council, UNHCR and Office of the Prime Minister. With the award, FRC, UNHCR and OPM want to increase the awareness of the challenges and needs of refugees in Uganda and to encourage refugee women to become skilled and resourceful role models.

The winner is awarded with a prize of three million shillings, of which she can use one million for her own purposes and two million for a community project of her choice.

36 000 Burundian refugees in Uganda

Uganda is currently hosting about 36 000 Burundian refugees, who are mostly living in the Nakivale refugee settlement. The number of urban Burundians in Kampala and other towns, is not known.

The political situation in Burundi has been unstable for years. In 2015 president Pierre Nkurunziza’s re-election caused the latest flow of refugees into neighboring countries. About 400 000 have left. In the spring 2017, about 400 Burundian refugees crossed the border to Uganda daily.

Burundian government has been calling Burundians back home, but Ugandan officials have indicated, that Burundian refugees will not be expelled or forcefully repatriated.

Finnish Refugee Council – 20 years of adult education amongst refugees in Uganda

The background for the Refugee Woman of the Year award is in Finland, where FRC has chosen a skilled and resourceful refugee woman twenty times already. These refugee women promote positive image and the rights of refugees amongst their own communities and in the Finnish society. Many of these women have later become well known community leaders and public figures, even parliamentarians, in Finland.

Finnish Refugee Council was established in 1965. Since then it has worked for new beginnings by supporting refugees to fulfill their potential and become active members of the society. FRC promotes refugee rights both in Finland and abroad and is also UNHCR’s associate in Finland. This year, FRC celebrates its 20th year of work amongst the refugees in Uganda. FRC is the only international NGO specializing in adult education for refugees. FRC started English for Adults (EFA) and Functional Adult Literacy (FLA) lessons in Adjumani district in 1997 and has returned to Adjumani in 2015. Over 20 years, about 45 000-50 000 refugees also in Kyaka II, Kyangwali and Nakivale refugee settlements, and in Kampala, have participated in different courses. This year, FRC is planning to start new operations in Lamwo.