Growing up with nothing taught me exactly how to be very grateful for the little things at hand. It is everyone’s dream to have all the necessities in life but not everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth. I have come to appreciate the beauty of life simply because a group of people selflessly gave what they could, to secure a better future for me (I will forever be grateful for their kindness and generosity). Just like food and shelter, I believe clothes are equally important for life’s survival. Bonsuk Recheal Slivia, is my name and this is my life’s journey so far.
2014 witnessed a turning point in my life. I joined a group of five age mates who enrolled in a 10 weeks mentorship experience to become fearless influencers of society. In this short period of learning, unlearning and understanding how to use our natural gifting to help others, my eyes opened up to the endless list of heart aching experiences that people were going through in my community. As part of our assignment named Social Justice; where we had to adopt a child to visit in an orphanage school around Mulago in Kampala. We managed to pool resources even if we didn’t have much and made it on the visitation day! The joy, smiles and ecstatic wordless expression of the little girl gave us a priceless satisfaction that I believe none of us will ever forget on this specific reach out.
Years down the road, I started collecting clothes to donate to a small home for crisis teenage mothers in my neighbourhood in Kampala under Wakisa Ministries. I never had much clothes but I would send broadcast messages to all my friends on WhatsApp and luckily, I got positive feedback and successfully made clothes donations to the home. Every time I kept doing this I felt the need to do it more and more just to keep seeing the smiles and joyous faces of the people at this home. My friends came to know me as someone who collected clothes for donation and this became much easier for me to do!
As I sought to grow the project, I met Simon Marot Touloung, a South Sudanese living in Uganda and is one of those unlucky ones who had to stay in one shirt and a pair of shorts for 6 years growing up in Imvepi refugee camp in Northern Uganda as a separated child. As we interacted, I told him about my move to donate clothes. He was so touched that he shared his experience growing up without the luxury of having enough clothes.
He shared, “At age 8, in the year 2000, I was living with one shirt and one trouser. The two (shirt and short) were the ones I used in school, during children play and for going to church. And because we could not afford even a bar of soap at that time, we used to wash our clothes with sands from the Enyau River. We made sure; we washed them before bathing and then let them to dry in the sun heat as we take our bath. When the clothes are dried, we then end our long stay in water. It was not an easy experience as people put it today”
With the isolation that refugees feel when they are relocated to a new country and then trying to get over their trauma and start their lives, even a small gesture of friendship can mean a great deal. Today I stand for a Uganda that offers refugee to victims of war and compassion for those seeking a better life so I started running a social media campaign to collect clothes to dress refugees in Kiryandongo refugee settlement in Northern Uganda.
From Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, I have managed to collect overwhelming sacks of clothes and still collecting from followers who respond to my posts and those re-shared by my social media networks.
Along the way, I got extra support from Hangout Foundation and Africa Youth Action Network, who committed to the progress of this project. We simply collected clothes from well-wishers and on the 20th of November 2018, we headed to Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement to donate all we had collected for refugees with special needs like pregnant mothers, disabled and children.
This clothes donation project is aimed at;
Expressing hospitality, a nearly universal language and excellent way of making refugees feel welcome in the country.
By the time refugees arrive to another country, they’ve experienced incredible loss and by sharing clothes with them, our kind gesture is to help them heal or overcome their trauma.
Get to know them by listening to their stories in the process if they want to share. Seeking to understand where they are coming from is a powerful way of showing our compassion.
Send a message of peace protection and promotion in our countries and communities.
Making sure this happens has not been as easy as it may sound, I faced challenges,
The bureaucracy of accessing the refugees was tiresome! It needed commitment to keep going back at the Prime Minister’s Office to seek for the permission letter. It took 3weeks to finally have the letter.
As much as people are willing to give, the logistics can get very unfriendly! Transportation of the clothes shared sometimes needs private means like hired vehicles to be safe but the cost is too expensive!
Officers at the camp needed money for facilitation to be present on the actual day of donation thus raising up the cost of doing goodwill for this community.
With the determination I had to see that this project succeeds, I devised means to overcome the above challenges
Collaboration for a common cause is very resourceful. Alone, this project cannot grow to be as beneficial to crisis communities in my country as I want for it to be. Partnering with Hangout Foundation and Africa Youth Action Network made this project a success! I also believe that for any social project or venture to be very successful, it necessitates different skillsets, knowledge, expertise and personal natural gifts. Through this, we managed to raise funds that helped us through the implementation stage of the project.
Following the right way for doing things is very Important. As much as shortcuts of implementing projects look appealing, they can result into social evils like corruption that has remained a big challenge to many continents. Since we had followed every protocol allowing us to donate clothes to the refugees, we easily achieved our mission.
To all governments, there is something more that you can do than just simply helping refugees survive when they can thrive. Think of refugee camps and communities as more than just temporary populations where they languish waiting for wars to end rather as centres of excellence where they triumph over their trauma and train them for the day they can go back to their homes as agents of positive change and social transformation. These victims of war hold the keys to lasting peace and are the right people to end the cycle of violence.
Let us unite and work towards the desired change we all want to live in.