28-year-old Tamari Mutesi has been a refugee since 1997. She was born in North Kivu, DRC. Her family had to flee to Uganda due to war and insecurity resulting from ethnic conflicts. They resettled in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement where Mutesi still lives.
When it was time to register refugee children for school, Mutesi’s father stopped her from going and her mother refused to go register her. Mutesi then sneaked out and went on her own. In order to raise money for her school fees, she sold her blanket and exchanged it to a hen. This hen laid eggs and hatched chicks which all grew and continued to reproduce, which helped Mutesi financially.
Mutesi also continued her studies later on. She gained a diploma in Social Work and Social Administration at Bugema University, paying the tuition fees herself. She later completed a degree in Development Studies at the same university, being one of the refugees sponsored by Windle Trust.
Mutesi has stated that her own childhood experiences inspired and motivated her to work for the benefit of girls. In Kyangwali, she has been active in promoting education, sensitising and encouraging families to keep their children in school or to send them back to school, registering children in need for school and raising money to pay their school fees. She also started an Anti-violence Women’s Group to encourage and educate young girls, and to train them in tailoring. Furthermore, she has been active in community mobilisation on issues related to sexual and gender-based violence.
“Education is very important for refugees because it enables them to solve problems on their own, helps them attain employment, and opens their minds to do something for themselves. That’s why I am always mobilising community members and talking to parents about sending their children to school”, she says.
Mutesi speaks 8 languages and is therefore able to communicate with different people easily. She has also accrued entrepreneurship skills. Currently, she makes a living by selling wax print cloth “bitenge” and shoes. She also practices tailoring as well as agricultural work. She is married and has one child.
Mutesi is the seventh woman to be selected as Uganda’s Refugee Woman of the Year. The title is jointly awarded by the Finnish Refugee Council (FRC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
”Mrs. Mutesi has set an example through her own personal determination and commitment to education, through insisting on attending school in her country of origin, despite the lack of support from her parents, and then attending school, university and seizing diverse training opportunities in Uganda”, the FRC, UNHCR and OPM say.
With the award, the FRC, UNHCR and OPM wish to raise awareness of the challenges and needs of refugees in Uganda, and to encourage refugee women to become skilled and resourceful role models. The awardee receives a prize of three million shillings (roughly 670 €), of which she can use one million for her own purposes and two million for a community project of her choice.