UNITED NATIONS—Lydia Kanyambo visited U.N. Headquarters this week seeking assistance as she works on behalf of children who were forced to flee their countries.
Kanyambo is the chief operating officer of Choose Yourself, a nonprofit that empowers American, Ugandan, Kenyan and Rwandan girls in subjects ranging from mental health, reproductive rights and entrepreneurial skills. Her organization, which also aids stateless youth, is in the process of establishing a school at the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, one of the largest camps in Uganda.
Kanyambo met with any head of state or U.N. official who would listen at this year’s Africa Dialogue Series themed, “Towards Durable Solutions for the Forcibly Displaced Persons in Africa.”
Education and lifelong learning are two durable solutions, beyond the immediate humanitarian responses, that allow displaced people to integrate into society, said Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, president of the 73rd Session of the U.N. General Assembly.
“We are contending with the worst displacement crisis since records began ... We know that many displaced persons spend years, even decades in camps, in exile, in limbo,” said Garces, citing the importance of other solutions such as economic opportunities, societal contributions, voluntary return and repatriation.
“We need greater political and financial support for transitions at the humanitarian development nexus,” said Garces.
That sentiment prompted Kanyambo to attend the three-day event, which ended yesterday: “We need access to resources. We need partnership facilitation. And we need the United Nations to urge the Ugandan government to make this project a priority.”
Even with the assistance of the United Nations, Kanyambo said, the program should still be led by residents of the settlement, reminding, “Many of the refugees were professionals before they were displaced.”
At the United Nations, this is The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons. It also marks the 10th anniversary of the Kampala Convention, an African Union treaty signed by 40 and ratified by 25 of the 54 member states to protect and assist internally displaced people.
In addition to natural disasters, conflict is another tragedy that has forcibly displaced more than 24 million people in Africa, which represents a third of all those displaced people around the world, said Under-Secretary-General Bience Gawanas, of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, which hosted the annual series in observance of the May 25 founding of the Organisation of African Unity.
“Forced displacement is not only a tale of human tragedy. It poses a real threat to achieving peace, prosperity and development,” said Gawanas, as she recounted her own experience of displacement.
“I’m a product of African solidarity. Having left home in my teens during the war for liberation against apartheid in Namibia, I spent years in refugee camps in Angola and Zambia and benefited immensely from the generosity of the Angolan and Zambian people.”
How countries like Uganda, Chad, Ethiopia and Tanzania welcome refugees show what is possible with compassion and generosity, Gawanas said.
“African countries have a long record of keeping their borders, doors and hearts open to refugees and internally displaced persons—an example not followed by everyone in the world,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Developing nations host more than 80 percent of refugees, Garces pointed out, while many wealthy countries have been reluctant to accept significant numbers of displaced people.
“The best way to protect refugees and displaced people is to prevent them from ever having to leave their home,” Guterres said, identifying some of those root causes as poverty, conflict, discrimination and exclusion.
Women are expected to play a major role in tackling some of these challenges. The African Women’s Leadership Network, in conjunction with the United Nations and African Union, is enhancing the role of women in promoting peaceful resolutions in armed conflicts, according to UN Women. They also are expected to take leadership roles in the Silencing Guns by 2020, an African Union pledge to end all wars, civil conflicts and gender-based violence.
“We believe that all crises are gendered,” Kanyambo said, explaining that girls are the most vulnerable, particularly when they are in economic distress.
“They are exposed to sex trafficking, prostitution and child marriages. We want to work with girls to overcome their circumstances,” Kanyambo said, adding that her organization plans expansion in Canada, other African nations and various U.S. states.
Kanyambo views education as a means of prevention and intervention to address some of those root causes. “We want to break the cycle of displacement,” she said. “We want them to be more integrated into society. We want to be a voice for those whose voices are unheard. We want to transform victims into warriors.”