Debaba Maarifa Junior Portrait Shot -Youth Advisory Committee Member
Debaba Maarifa Junior Portrait Shot -Youth Advisory Committee Member

Reflections from the DREEM Youth Advisory Committee: Being a Refugee Does Not Stop Someone to Think or to Work

Like many people I had a dream, and my dream was to become a successful diplomat. Thus, it was decided at my young age that I would study International Relations and Diplomacy in  university. I was extremely dedicated to my studies and spent eight hours a day at school without eating. Regrettably, after only one year of post-secondary studies , I was forced to leave my country of origin because of man-made conflicts.

When I reached Uganda, after leaving everything behind in 2012, at the age of 22, I settled in Nakivale Refugee settlement. I was hopeless. It was not easy to settle as a young boy due to hardship but I had to choose focus. I was always reminded of a famous quote “I find that the harder I work; the more luck I seem to have .” I developed the spirit of community volunteering with humanitarian agencies working in the settlement sector. This was not easy because my English proficiency was very poor. To keep up with my desire, I enrolled in an English Club program for adults,  which helped me improve my English language skills.  After  3 months of learning, I began my first occupation as an  Instructor with the FRC (Finish Refugee Council). I became a community worker with ARC/UNHCR and I was elected Chairman for the Refugee Youth.  Over the course of my work, I have shown integrity, honesty, and discipline to  my fellow refugees and other stakeholders and in 2015, I joined IOM as a Field Assistant. Thereafter, I became an  interpreter with IOM and UNHCR.

I have always been driven by passion to be the voice of the voiceless in my community through advocacy. As a result of this passion, in 2018, I founded the Refugee Interpreters Association (RIA). Together with my fellow refugee youth, we  offered professional interpretation services as a form of livelihood. We served the community by providing  professional interpretation services to refugees during the registration of new arrivals and throughout the resettlement process. We also provided court interpretation, medical interpretation, and community interpretation. Through our services, we supported and promoted the rights of women and young girls. We also used this organization as a platform to train and coach new interpreters, and create job opportunities for refugees and forced migrants.

Currently, I am the Chairman of the Refugee Welfare Council (RWC) having been elected in 2019 for a 3-year term. The  RWC is a leadership structure in the refugee settlements which is elected by the refugee community under the supervision of the Office of the Prime Minister. The team acts as a link between the refugee community and service providers. The RWC  assists in monitoring projects implemented in the settlements and informs the program managers about project implementation progress, the benefits and suitability of activities  in the community, as well as any gaps or shortcomings. The RWC is also responsible for managing and handling community conflicts and misunderstandings which are not of criminal nature and  for  promoting positive cultural norms and values among refugees.

Early this year, I was lucky to be competitively considered among the 12 Youth Advisory Committee members for the Displaced and Refugee Youth Enabling Economic Mechanism (DREEM) project. The DREEM project is an exciting partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and WUSC. The project aims to ensure that refugee and displaced youth, particularly young women, have access to diverse opportunities in higher education, dignified and fulfilling employment, entrepreneurship and leadership in their communities, and beyond. This opportunity has given me a chance to provide advice and guidance to WUSC, the Mastercard Foundation, their stakeholders, and program partners on inclusion in education and comprehensive support, improving access to economic opportunities, and  strengthening institutions and ecosystems.

I believe our stories of perseverance and solutions to our challenges can best be told by us.  

My words of encouragement to my fellow refugees are to first remind others that there is preparation in whatever you are doing and at whatever level. Secondly, I would like to remind my fellow young men and women that education is the key for us to open the doors of prosperity.  Education is the only thing that equalizes all men and women no matter their status or social rank, either a refugee or a displaced person or migrant. If your mind does not set your goal and focus on your vision and objectives of your life, then you are a danger to yourself. Being a refugee does not stop someone from thinking or working, if you are doing good work in your local community or in your settlement or camp, one day you will be good at a national level, you will be good in Africa and once you are good in Africa, you can now compete with the world because that is where the competition is.

Therefore, my fellow young men and women, there is a future where the world is looking for new young men and women who are disciplined because discipline is at the heart of who you are, no matter how educated you are, no matter how rich you are, if you do not have the gift of discipline then you are a danger to society. I am encouraging fellow young men and women to be disciplined so that you can become good global citizens.

The world is looking for young men and women who are humble. “Humility is the mother’s milk of greatness.”

We must ask a question, are we prepared for the future? Today when you walk around your country or somewhere else you discover that there are many opportunities but those opportunities are only for those who have been prepared and those who have the ability. We live in a society where everybody thinks that if you have a university degree, you must be employed, it is a must to be employed. However, the world is now looking for young men and women who can innovate and invent. The world is looking for innovators and inventors who themselves are going to be job creators and whichever talent you have, please nurture it because there is money in our talents.

Debaba Maarifa Junior

Youth Advisory Committee Member

DREEM Project The Displaced and Refugee Youth Enabling Environment Mechanism (DREEM) project is a 5-year project funded by the Mastercard Foundation that is working to facilitate an enabling environment for the inclusion of refugee and displaced youth, especially young women, to fully participate in society. The Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) is a group of young refugees whose role is to provide guidance to the DREEM project to enable the objectives of the Foundation and ensure that DREEM activities are designed and delivered to meet the needs of refugees and displaced young people.

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