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May 24, 2023

Meet three African refugee change-makers elevating their communities through leadership and activism

Today, the number of forcibly displaced people around the world surpasses 100 million as new displacements caused by war, conflict and climate emergencies have forced many to flee their homes.

The impacts of forced displacement in Africa have been particularly profound. According to  UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Africa hosts one-third of all forcibly displaced people, and in 2021, around 30 million internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum-seekers were recorded to be living on the continent. Today that number continues to grow as new violence in Sudan, drought in the Horn of Africa and floods in places like Mozambique and Malawi, have forced people from their homes.

Despite facing unimaginable circumstances, refugees demonstrate incredible resilience and perseverance, not only striving for brighter futures for their families but working tirelessly to elevate their communities through leadership and activism.

This World Africa Day, meet refugee leaders from across the continent who are using their experiences to raise awareness about refugee issues and elevate their communities. Their stories serve as important reminders that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope for a brighter future. 

Mary Maker: UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador & Education Advocate

Mary Maker, GWA and South Sudanese RefugeeWhen Mary Maker was a child, she was forced to flee conflict in South Sudan and sought refuge in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Even after losing her parents and lacking the means to afford school fees, Mary remained determined to pursue education — often holding onto the words her father would say: "Education is your first husband. Never let a man tell you how to live your life."

Even though she couldn't afford formal schooling for four years, Mary was determined to learn. She would sneak into classrooms by climbing through windows, just to listen to lectures. 

"You have no idea how slowly and wearily time passes when your future has been put on hold," Mary explains.

Mary overcame extraordinary barriers to complete her high school studies and became a teacher for refugee youth in Kakuma. Now she is a passionate advocate for refugee children’s right to learn.

“...The number of opportunities available to refugee students in my position is minuscule compared to the number who are hungry to go to school and university,” says Mary.

Today, Mary is living out her dreams of completing her college degree and is a fervent advocate for refugee youth as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.

“Today, that little girl is studying in a liberal arts college in America, trying both to make her own way in life and to pull other refugees up the ladder with her,” she says.

Saadia Idris: South Sudanese Refugee & Mentor

Saadia Idris: South Sudanese Refugee & Mentor outside her home in Kakuma, KenyaSaadia Idris, a 27-year-old Sudanese refugee, was forced to flee to Kakuma, Kenya, alone at the age of 17 when war devastated her home country and separated her from her family. 

Despite facing immense hardship, Saadia is committed to empowering refugee women in her community. 

As a community mobilizer, she partners with UNHCR and other organizations to promote gender-based violence (GBV) awareness and improve access to referral pathways for GBV survivors, such as psychosocial support, case management and medical assistance — especially to women, children and girls in her community. 

Alongside working as a community mobilizer, Saadia provides mentorship to young refugee girls in Kakuma, where she connects girls who have similar experiences and fosters a safe and supportive community for them. Through her efforts, these girls are able to receive encouragement and support to help them navigate their unique challenges.

"I want to advocate for women who are unable to fight for themselves, and I want my community to recognize that women are just as capable as men," Saadia says. "This is reason enough for me not to give up every day."

Adam Moussa Sudanese Refugee and Educator 

Adam Moussa Sudanese Refugee and EducatorWhen Adam was 22 years old, he was forced to flee violence and conflict in Darfur, Sudan. From the moment he arrived at the Bredjing refugee camp in eastern Chad, he was always involved in education initiatives in the community. 

After witnessing the dire need for teachers and learning opportunities for refugee kids in Bredjing, Adam voluntarily joined forces with other refugees to provide informal education to children. 

“Without education, we cannot change our lives and our communities,” says Adam. 

In 2007, together with ten other peers, Adam entered a specialized educational program carried out by RET International. The following year he received an accredited high school diploma from the International University of Africa in Khartoum.  

For six years, Adam worked as a high school teacher and served as Director of the school, all while learning French in his spare time. As  a tireless advocate for education in the refugee camp, he earned the endearing nickname “Teacher Adam.”

How to help…

By becoming a monthly donor for USA for UNHCR you can make a difference in the lives of refugees across Africa and around the world. Your support will help provide the education and resources that refugees need to achieve their dreams and build a better future for themselves and their communities.