In the eyes of a former refugee

As we celebrate the world refugee day hear ICS volunteer and youth reporter Akello Nancy Ongom, a former refugee girl child who has overcome a lot to become the person she is today.

According to the UNHCR, “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.”

My case was slightly different as I was not forced to flee my country but rather my village and forced to stay in the Internally Displaced Persons camp (IDP camp) with the rest of my family. My uncles were killed in 1996 by the rebels, meaning I didn’t get the chance to know them.

My Journey was quite a terrifying one. And I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through what me and my family had to. I definitely will not forget it and I learned a lot. I understood people’s pain and suffering and I knew what it meant to suffer or go without food. The feeling that you are a refugee never really leaves you.

When I was 6 years old, I remember walking long distances with my family to find places to sleep because rebels would often come to camps to abduct people so we would have to leave our houses. Hearing gunshots at night made it nearly impossible to sleep.

Nancy with fellow ICS volunteers Faith, Babra and Cathy.

We depended on food provided by the World Food Program (WFP) but sometimes my mother would go to the village to get cassava. We would worry when she left and often wondered if she would ever return.

My mum later resorted to brewing local alcohol as a business to support us. Most of the people in the camp had nothing to do but spend the day drinking. It was a good business but unfortunately, she got addicted to alcohol and, after the war, sadly passed away.

There were a lot of cases of domestic violence, children’s rights abuses, sexual violence and child marriages. Some of my classmates were also abducted and I never saw them again.

Watching houses burn all the time was traumatizing. It would happen almost every week and the Red Cross society would have to come and save the day.

Despite all the problems, my aspirations were bigger than my fears. I decided to always aim higher and look forward to the next day.

When I was ten years old, we moved to the town with our dad and that was when I began to feel some sort of freedom although many children were still traumatized.

In my new Primary school, I joined the Children’s Rights club with the hopes of reaching fellow children, especially in the IDP camps. I wanted to help them overcome their trauma and advocate for education since the majority had lost interest in education. A common saying was: “what is the purpose of education when in the end you will only become a child soldier”.

As a member of the Children’s Rights club, I developed a passion for poetry and started reciting war poems to encourage people. This was when I discovered my real passion to advocate for Human Rights and Gender based violence (GBV).

After terrorizing Northern Uganda for so long, in 2006, the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) indicated an interest in peace talk negotiations hosted by Juba- Sudan. This is now known as the Juba- Peace talk. People started relocating to villages because there was peace but many were still left traumatized including me. I had lost a lot of people and witnessed several atrocities. I was lucky to get help both psychologically and in terms of scholarships for my education.

Akello Nancy Ongom on her graduation

My hope for the future is that a war like that never happens again. It really makes me sad that there are still so many people who are going through what I went through. I hope that they find the strength to continue moving on just as I did.

My determination and hard work made me become what I am today, a recent bachelor of law graduate- honours degree with a deep passion for Human Rights and Gender Based Violence ( GBV) advocacy. I joined ICS with the dream of changing the lives of many youths, especially young children and I hope that I get the opportunity of putting a smile on the faces of many refugees just as the same was done for me.

Akello Nancy Ongom

Nancy is a lawyer and youth Advocate: "I love to write and I am always aiming to inspire and motivate others while bearing in mind that there is no greater sadness than keeping an untold story inside." Nancy Ongom is a Law Graduate (LLB) from Uganda Christian University-Mukono. She is very passionate about Human Rights and Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and have recently completed a Trainer of Trainers (TOTs) certificate Course in Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Nancy Ongom volunteers with Youth Led Organizations and actively engages in civic participation and was implementing a change project on Menstrual Hygiene Management before closure of schools. Engaging young girls and boys in Primary schools and also introducing them to the aspect of social accountability and advocacy. Nancy Ongom is currently a member of National Youth Engagement Network (NYEN Uganda) and a Youth Compact Champion.

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In the eyes of a former refugee

by Akello Nancy Ongom Reading time: 3 min