Jean Marie Portrait Shot - Youth Advisory Committee Member
Jean Marie Portrait Shot - Youth Advisory Committee Member

Reflections from the DREEM Youth Advisory Committee: It’s Now Our Time

When you wake up every day from a good night’s sleep in that cozy bed, have a decent job and pizza is not just a diagram in your head but a regular meal, this is what we would generally perceive as a decent life. In the midst of the imagination of everyone’s efforts to make it, there comes a story of a refugee.

Refugees around the world find themselves having to accept to live as refugees not by choice but by the nature of the circumstances they find themselves in. Even those who were once prominent figures in their country of origin might easily find themselves becoming dependent on a non-profit organization’s support one day. This is because of the incidents that forced them out, likely causing them to lose all their wealth. With so many rendered vulnerable, it has proven to be very important to have organizations that cater to their needs. I happen to be a part of this community called ‘refugees’. Whether I love being labelled a refugee or not is a question for another day but what is important for me is understanding and believing that although I am now in the new country of refuge, I must still continue to find ways to survive.

Losing wealth, work or even starting a business is not an easy start in a new country, it is never a walk in the park. Being a refugee comes with so many challenges; survival is mainly through hand-to-mouth jobs, the income refugees earn after selling their “vitenges” or groundnuts is so little that even paying rent, or at the extreme paying school fees can be a challenge. In addition, having limited access to education, empowerment and job opportunities, delays with receiving or not having any documentation at all and access to healthcare are all other issues that refugees often find themselves concerned with.

Non-governmental organizations have tried to support and mitigate refugees’ challenges. However, that has not solved our problems yet. Refugees continue to feel discriminated against in schools, at workplaces and also in the provisions of services across host countries. The narrative of inclusion and togetherness is something new and it seeks to allow everyone—refugees included—to be part of the economy by giving them access to work permits and important papers which ultimately means refugees will get employed and they can even support locals if successful.

I am a product of many generous people who made me believe in myself. I have been fortunate to speak in several forums on the importance of including refugees in program formulation. Currently I am the chairperson and partnerships lead of the Youth Voices Community (YVC),  a refugee-led organization where our main work is to advocate for refugee issues and rights with an aim of finding better solutions. We also offer training and support education related programs. I am also a DAFI scholar and consider that a blessing since I am pursuing studies in Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Nairobi which has motivated me to venture into a new media social enterprise known as Nawezaa. Naweza seeks to engage youth, especially refugees and displaced youth in Kenya in the media and in conversations that empower them to tell their stories.

This year’s World Refugee Day theme “Together we heal, learn and shine,” truly resonates with me as I share this sentiment and an appreciation for the theme since as refugees we have continued to face a lot of challenges. However, we have not allowed that to fully define our future. We are ever hopeful and continue to work very hard to change our situations through new ideas and projects for ourselves and the community.

I am glad to have been competitively selected as a Youth Advisory Committee member for the Displaced and Refugee youth Enabling Environment Mechanism (DREEM) project- the DREEM project is an exciting partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and WUSC. It 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. As a team of advisors composed of individuals with lived experiences, we provide advice and guidance to WUSC, the Mastercard Foundation and their stakeholders and program partners on three key areas of focus that are highlighted in the Mastercard Foundation’s Refugee Framework:

  • Inclusion in Education and Comprehensive support
  • Improved access to economic opportunities
  • Strengthen Institutions and Ecosystems 

Being part of the committee allows me to share the stories and challenges that refugees in my community face and allows me to be a part of the conversation to create a better future for refugee youth, a future that is receptive and includes them, and a future that provides more educational livelihood empowerment projects.

I believe IT’S NOW OUR TIME, to show the world that we (refugees) are not people who depend on handouts but we are people who are visionary, innovative, hardworking and dedicated to transforming difficult life experiences into an inspirational story of resilience and change for ourselves and for the community we serve. Our ideas and recommendations should be appreciated and, with so doing, refugees will feel loved, empowered, supported and most of all their challenges will find solutions. I wish to end this story with one of my favorite quotes by Nelson Mandela, he says “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Refugees are ready, now more than ever, to make the impossible possible.

When speaking about appreciation of refugees and their work, I cannot think of a better reference than Ariam Mogos, A Pan Africanist and k12 Lab Futurist Fellow at Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford – who speaks of appreciating different cultures and the issues that affect them and says:

“When you believe, you become and definitely the energy that ‘we’ have is enough to show how far we are going despite how far we came from. This is me, this is them, this is us. This is all the people strongly united under the name “Refugees” diversified across the continent.”

Jean Marie Ishimwe

Youth Advisory Committee Member

DREEM Project

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