I am a former refugee child, born from 2 refugee parents - one lost both parents and another separated with them due to wars. I am calling for the support of refugee children, and the victims of the DRC massacre. My name is Neema Gloria Wereje, and I am 18 years old.
Born from extremely poor refugee parents, my father was separated from his parents at a young age while my mother lost both parents when she was around 4 years old. At my birth, I spent weeks without clothes as a baby, and grew up in tough conditions. Due to this my father was most of the time absent, for his education and our wellbeing. But also he sacrificed his time and life striving to provide education to thousands of other refugee children…having opportunities in the USA, it is my call to join those changing lives of suffering children.
Until the age of 11, I lived in a Kyangwali refugee camp with over 40,000 people, located in Hoima district, Uganda. Poverty in my family was so extreme that getting something to eat or wear was nearly impossible. I witnessed many suffering families. My dad always traveled to Kampala to further his education while mom stayed at home taking care of us. Because of dad’s tender, heartfelt love for the poor and his desire to change the community, he started an organization called CIYOTA (Coburwas International Youth Organization to Transform Africa) to support helpless people in the Camp. From zero, raising funds by farming for people, CIYOTA has sponsored over 2,000 conflict-affected children in primary – and I am one of CIYOTA primary school beneficiaries. CIYOTA has also educated over 1,000 youths who have finished high school, 62 are attending various universities across the world. CIYOTA directly impacts over 84,000 people, and CIYOTA graduates are the future leaders to build a peaceful and competitive continent.
Because of his work, I had many opportunities open for me, such as learning English at a very young age which was never possible for 95% of children. Most parents never took education seriously because they never went to school, so they thought that their children should go and farm every day instead of them attending school even when it was free. Later, we moved to Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, where we lived for about four years. Then my father arranged for my mother, brothers, sister, and me to go to the USA with the support of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
Life in a new country challenged me because I had to adapt to a new language, new people, new schools, and a new Seventh Day Adventist church that helped us. I came to the US without my father, which made life more difficult for me and my siblings and mom. We moved to Michigan because my uncle resides here, and he is helpful to mom and all of us. Despite the many challenges, I was so excited because I knew life would be much better than in the camp. I sleep on a better mattress, and in a better room; I go to an outstanding school. I have developed a sense of humor and become more compassionate. Step by step, I started visioning my future.
At the moment, I see myself most of the time visiting many places in the World, listening to many stories from different people, especially women, and using them to change lives. I envision myself gathering young women at places, helping to teach and train them to start a business for themselves so they can make a living and guiding them on how helpful it is for a young woman to pursue education first before marriage because it earns her much respect from the family and people around her. It also makes her a better life than she would have if she got married at a very young age.
Witnessing hardships opened my eyes in many ways. During my life, I saw children sitting on the streets, not having someone to call a parent, going in the trash for food and clothes, being mistreated by people. These experiences inspire me to help children in need when I have my education, explicitly starting an orphanage and providing opportunities for other children like me.
What is happening right now - this moment - in the DRC is unimaginable. I refuse to share images with you but know this; there is a massacre happening in Ituri province. Many of whom are parents of small children, are being beheaded by rival tribes for their land. Right now, their children are orphaned and alone, trying to comprehend what they witnessed and trying desperately to fend for themselves. History from my childhood threatens to repeat itself, and I won’t stand by and watch.
While CIYOTA supports multilateral interventions to the violence with CIYOTA work on the ground to negotiate the peace, I can’t stop thinking about urgent questions. Where will the children left behind sleep tonight? Where will they live? How will they care for themselves? How will they learn? Thrive?
This GoFundMe campaign is to give 20 children in Ituri province a second chance at life. CIYOTA organization has already identified host families in our regions of operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the refugee settlement in Uganda ready to welcome these children and raise them as their own. We feel that these children’s lives are on the front line, just as the pandemic is. These little children, just like us, have witnessed unthinkable violence and experienced the loneliness of being left behind. They will need loving homes, medication, and excellent education to have a chance to heal, break from poverty and earn a living. We have to help them.
Please join the CIYOTA organization and me on our journey, in giving towards our goal of raising $15,000 that will cover annual tuition fees, clothing, feeding, medication, and psychosocial support for the children for one year as they settle in.
CIYOTA is searching, and rescuing these children from internally displaced camps, and hard to reach villages. We transport them to safer communities where they are adopted. CIYOTA provides education, medication, psychosocial support, and other needs. Amidst COVID pandemic, we are dealing with a crisis within crises. With your support:
In conclusion, CIYOTA ‘s goal is to build a peace movement of one million students, teachers, and citizens that centers on social innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership to design solutions to social unrest, bridge gaps between tribes, and build sustainable peace. We are an award-winning, people-powered development organization in Uganda, and we are also focusing on serving youth in the DRC. This mission is urgent.
Your support will change a life. We do not only build schools - we do build the people.
Thank you so much in advance.
Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C) is the second biggest country in Africa endowed with natural resources. DRC, for the last 133 years has been in war conflicts displacing millions of families burying an estimate of 6 million. DRC problems are systemic, and affect the country across the spectrum. If we are to address children issues, DRC has 7 million children between 5-17 years who are out of school (UNICEF), we are talking about 4.5 million internally displaced refugees compared to 800,000 in other countries (Guardian). Unemployment is high, and the environment for women to thrive is the worst on planet earth! This makes CIYOTA operations of high urgency.
Benson Murihira Wereje, co-founder of CIYOTA, who has also won the ASHOKA fellowship for his new idea of building a functional and transformative education system thought it wise to establish programs that route for sustainable peace and prosperity in the war-inflicted regions in the Eastern Congo. A desire to unite, empower and transform entrepreneurial, socially responsible and non-violent leaders in the Congo.
Being mindful about the operational sustainability of our programs aside from fundraising from donors, we raise money locally from renting the learning center hall for ceremonies, agribusiness, selling of chalk locally made, soap making, and other business opportunities.
CIYOTA DRC aims at providing practical education, bridging gaps between formal and informal systems. To us we call it education if it can respond to specific community problems. Therefore Congo root causes are believed to be the poor education system that breeds the poor governance transitioning to conflicts and abject poverty.
This program aims at raising funds internally to finance programs and employees. It is our focus to solve DRC problems and call for the world to support our struggle. These initiatives include the following;
This is a 3 fold empowerment model to build capacity, and likening the intellectual property to other organizations.