Activist Sabuni Francoise Chikunda fits into many places. She is a teacher, counsellor and many more. For some children, she is a dedicated English teacher. But for others at the Kabazana women’s centre where women gather to make handicrafts, Francoise is their founder. But for others in the refugee settlement who have survived sexual and gender-based violence, this brave woman is their counsellor and confidante.
For al her efforts all these years, she was bestowed with the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award for Africa. This is a prestigious annual prize that honours those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support forcibly displaced or stateless people.
Though got the award, she always feel that she has more to do for the people at Nakivale, Uganda, which houses about 1.3 lakh refugees.
Her life changed after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. During the brutal attack, she endured violence, torture and rape at the hands of armed militiamen in her native Democratic Republic of the Congo. She was kidnapped and held her as a slave for years.
The UNHCR quoted her as saying; “I went through a lot … I lost my home, my family, my job … everything,” she says softly. I was raped several times. My husband and my four children were killed.”
From there, she fled to Uganda where she became a community leader, a teacher and a counsellor.
On imparting classes to children, Francoise now feels empty as covid 19 has now stopped all the classes. She said that teaching was passion and loved to teach. “The more I teach, the more comfortable I feel,” she said. “I treat the children like my own,” she adds. “I don’t have children, so when I’m with them, I’m so happy.”
It was her hard days that transformed the spirit in her. She began with just ten women who would meet at her home. They would share their experiences and of vital importance focus on the next steps they needed to take to remake their lives.
After some days, she started the Kabazana Women’s Centre. Since its founding, more than 1,000 women have received training in various income generating activities, ranging from tailoring to cooking, handicrafts, hairdressing and agriculture.