(Café Avra Video). Today, on the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, I can only think about the Congolese Refugees I met in Uganda.


Greetings again from Jerusalem.


(youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lOcn7qW_9I )

Please do read my note below before watching the video above.

(* Also, just as a warning in advance, this post is quite graphic and descriptive.)

As you might, or might not know, today (March 8, 2011) is the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day and all I can think about are the Congolese Refugees I met in Uganda.

Well, I actually think about them everyday but I have chosen not to verbally speak about them on Cafe Avra.

The crossroads of International Women’s Day and my arrival to Israel about 3 weeks ago now has done something very interesting to my emotional state.

On one side I have been feeling so wonderful, so welcomed, and so blessed to be able to choose to be a new immigrant in my country which has everything one might ever need, and all I can think about constantly are each and every refugee I met over my half a year in Africa and especially, especially these strong, strong Congolese Women in Uganda. Personally I probably have met over 200+ refugees throughout my time in Kenya/Uganda, which is just a tiny fraction. There are hundreds of thousands.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, today, as I write this post, RAPE is used as a weapon of war which forces many refugees into Uganda.

Life is very difficult and dangerous (in Uganda) in the refugee camps where UNHCR provides food and minor assistance, so many refugees leave and try their luck in the capital, Kampala, which is usually not much easier.  Kampala is where I met these Congolese Women.

The political conflict is extremely complicated, but the simple fact is that rebels control the regions of Eastern Congo which are home to various ‘conflict minerals’ used in our cellphones and computers–i.e.  the 3 “T’s….tin, tungsten, and tantalum (as well as gold).

Taken from the Enough Project’s website, (  http://www.enoughproject.org )

The principal conflict minerals are:

  • Tin (produced from cassiterite) – used inside your cell phone and all electronic products as a solder on circuit boards.  The biggest use of tin worldwide is in electronic products. Congolese armed groups earn approximately $85 million per year from trade in tin.
  • Tantalum (produced from “coltan”) – used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras, and cell phones.  Sixty-five to 80 percent of the world’s tantalum is used in electronic products. Congolese armed groups earn an estimated $8 million per year from trading in tantalum.
  • Tungsten(produced from wolframite) – used to make your cell phone or Blackberry vibrate.  Tungsten is a growing source of income for armed groups in Congo, with armed groups currently earning approximately $2 million annually.
  • Gold – used in jewelry and as a component in electronics. Extremely valuable and easy to smuggle, Congolese armed groups are earning between $44 million to $88 million per year from gold

(There are advocacy groups who are currently putting pressure on companies who use ‘conflict minerals’ in their products to be more transparent.)


Rape is then used as  a Weapon of War to force families to flee areas where these minerals are based, in which many Congolese make it to Uganda, and many do not.  And just because you made it to Uganda, does not mean you are safe.

Borers are very porous and women are in severe sexual danger of being raped (again) in Uganda by Congolese Rebels.

Now, this is a warning. please shut down the screen if you don’t want to hear this next part.

This is not just Men raping Women.

Men rape Men,(unofficially 3 out of 10 men are raped) as a weapon of war. Almost every man who is raped  needs surgery at some point afterwards and might never fully recover from the abuse.  Do you think there are enough funds for these surgeries?

In some cases, rebels force fathers to rape their daughters.

Most women are raped in front of their husbands. Once that happens, the husbands usually do not want their wife anymore as they have been truly violated.

Or vice versa, Men are raped by men in front of their wives and they are too ashamed to look at their wife ever again.

What any refugee above would do to be able to choose to go to a new country after the torture they have been through and seen. And that the new country actually wants them as an immigrant! Will give them assistance as a new immigrant!

I am not here to criticize UNHCR, but they understand they have a severe crisis on their hand in Uganda they were not prepared for. (As I know from speaking to a Regional Director in Nairobi a few months after I saw with my own eyes the situation in Uganda.)

The number of Congolese Refugees in Uganda is currently somewhere, unofficially, around a quarter of a million.

Resettlement is like winning the lottery in Kenya and Uganda. Kenya and Uganda can barely take care of their own populations, let alone their refugee populations.

Have you been hearing on the news recently about the internal conflict currently in the Ivory Coast? Imagine the xenophobia against refugee ie  other/external populations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The footage above was all taken when I was in Kampala, Uganda last July 2010. I personally spoke to many of these women, heard their stories, and perhaps, being very, very naive, thought I could  move on with my life.

So today, on International Women’s Day, and gd willing every day, I want all my readers to appreciate how lucky you are as women in 2011. We all have the opportunity to help in small, or big ways.

You don’t have to go to Uganda, or Congo. You don’t have to donate money. I think just genuinely trying to help  a woman who perhaps has less than you in your own community is enough.

I truly am not sure what else to say but please watch the video.

In my opinion, International Women’s Day is everyday.

HIAS Young Leader Recognizes “Obama” – A Congolese Refugee Young Leader


Happy Friday!  Hope you all are well.

Before the weekend begins, I would like to share with you some excerpts from a blog post I wrote for HIAS.org this week, on my friend ‘Obama’.

You can read it on HIAS’s site (http://www.hias.org/en/post/26/hias-young-leader-recognizes-obama-congolese-) or below.

(As you might already know from reading my previous blog posts, I have come here to East Africa as a HIAS Young Leader, a volunteer program of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that I’ve been active in for the last three years.

I hope you appreciate this Young Leader as much as I have.

Have a great weekend:)


Differentiating what leadership means for the youth in America compared to the youth in Africa is a clear topic of discussion.

Starting from at least high school in the U.S., most curriculums push leadership development in some capacity. And once a university student you are recommended to attend workshops, seminars, courses and retreats to try to gain these skills that you are told are a necessity for the modern day workplace. You actually need leadership experience on your résumé to get certain jobs and fellowships, and leadership trainings continue into the corporate workplace.

Being in East Africa for the last four and a half months, and getting to know a lot of young African professionals quite well, I have seen the pressure to be a “leader” is not the norm in both the university setting and professional workplace. Most educational institutions emphasize academic qualifications and job experience, rather than leadership and management training. Also, there are no clear incentives on becoming a strong leader, so leadership skills are given less of a priority and people tend to focus more on technical based professional growth.

In addition, leadership in East Africa can be looked at almost negatively, due to the high level of corruption and lack of credibility in the political sphere. There are also heavy ethnic undertones when it comes to taking a leadership position, especially in multi-cultural centers such as Nairobi. People want to survive from day to day, rather than engage themselves in a position where there are no guaranteed returns, even if they are the perfect candidates for the job.

When asking a few of my Kenyan colleagues about this topic, they told me it will be very gradual for this mentality to change, and that at this moment in time, leadership is still not a priority.

But there are exceptions, of course, to every cultural norm. For change to happen in any society, there always needs to be someone who is willing to shake up the ground.

In this post, I want to highlight a unique example of a strong, positive, young natural leader who has the innate ability and talent of empowering his peers to be Young Leaders.

Meet Kassim Hussein Rajab.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Kassim over the last few months, where he has continually impressed me with his leadership qualities. He possesses a natural confidence and strong conviction for change that I do not see in many Young Leaders in the U.S.

Kassim Hussein is 22 and is a refugee from Eastern Congo. He was forced to flee and seek asylum in Kampala, Uganda with his younger brother, Salim (now 16), after the killing of his parents.

As you might or might not know, Eastern DR Congo is plagued by the deadliest conflict since World War II, in which more than 5 million people have already lost their lives.

To give a very short overview, which you can read more on your own time on the BBC’s website:

“DR Congo is extremely wealthy – and extremely big. Similar in size to Western Europe, it abounds with diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and zinc. Unfortunately for the people of DR Congo, its resource wealth has rarely been harnessed for their benefit. Reports of mass rapes, killings and other atrocities committed by rebels and government troops continue.”

When Kassim came to Kampala as a refugee in February 2008, he immediately began looking for a job and, in June 2008, after being granted refugee status, he was offered a job as an interpreter at InterAid (a branch of UNHCR Uganda). The job at InterAid was only a three-month contract, so he then began in October 2008 as an interpreter at Refugee Law Project, which is a partner of HIAS in Uganda and how I met Kassim back in July.

Kassim is able to speak five languages – French, English, Swahili, Lingala and his mother tongue.

Though currently employed at Refugee Law Project, Kassim channels most of his income to provide school fees for his younger brother. Kassim opted to take him to a private boarding school to get a better education because when they reached Uganda his brother did not know any English. In addition, because Kassim’s schedule was quite busy after getting the job at InterAid/UNHCR, he used to get home late and find his brother alone, crying, and always asking Kassim if they would be able to see their parents again.

Recently (August 2010), Kassim enrolled in a Bachelors of Development Studies course at Kampala International University. However, not all is rosy. Most of his salary goes to his brother’s school fees. Kassim had to take advances from his job, to add onto the loans he got from friends to pay for his fees for the first semester (which ends this December 2010), and he still doesn’t know where next semester’s funding will come from. It commences in January 2011. Each semester costs roughly $900, which is quite a lot for a 22-year-old translator supporting his family, and his own daily needs.

Kassim is also known in the refugee community as ‘Obama’.

Symbolically, the similarities between Kassim and Obama are striking. Kassim is not looking for a short-term way to survive, but has put education as his long-term solution to his circumstance.

As I said earlier, he currently is enrolled in Kampala International University to pursue a Bachelors of Development Studies. Within the first week, he was elected as the class leader in his department. His duties are to make sure that the lecturers are available and on time, to represent students to the Dean, to report to the student affairs’ office, to arrange group discussions, etc.

From Kassim on how the origin of the name Obama came about:

“The first people to call me Obama were the InterAid/UNHCR staff.

l was the youngest staff member and l had spent only 4 months in Kampala/Uganda.

One day, in one of our meetings, our coordinator told me that l was speaking like Obama as I made some contribution on the day’s matter.

She told us that in the Senate, Obama was the youngest senator but when he was to speak all the senators older than him would keep quiet and listen to him carefully and then applaud at the end.

She compared me with the real Obama.

At that time many people did not know much about Obama because he was just a senator. So all the staff members started calling me Obama.

The name grew popular when l got 4 t-shirts with Obama’s photo in front. It was a verification of urban refugees; many refugees found it easier to call me Obama because they could just read the name on my t-shirt. The same circumstances happened when l started working with Refugee Law Project.

I like Obama because he leads by example. He is a good charismatic leader; he is intelligent and knows what he does. Obama has a very long prosperity story; most could not believe that he has a Kenyan father and African blood.

lf l get a chance of meeting Obama, l will simply ask him to help stop the violence which is happening in Congo DRC. The rape of women, children being forced to join rebel groups and the abuse of human rights in the eastern of Congo.”

Again, like Obama, Kassim hopes one day to go back to Congo and enroll in public office so he can change the country from the bottom up.
All this depends on him being able to finish his education and continue with his leadership efforts.

I asked Kassim to speak a bit more on why his education is so important and what his definition of leadership is.

“In my experience working at InterAid and Refugee Law Project has helped me to realize that as much as organizations claim to have designed programs that address the needs of refugees and claim to advocate for refugees, this is often not the case. I would like to have an education that would allow me to assist refugees in the projects that they design and to help them speak for themselves.

I believe that if I could study further, I would be in an excellent position to genuinely advocate for the needs of refugees and to share an informed opinion on what projects should be implemented to assist them.

When we talk about Leadership, we refer to governance of society. The leader must ensure that his leadership is based on good governance. It is also important that his people entrust the leader with power, or otherwise there will be usurpation.

Leadership must also be accountable. There is need to separate dictatorship from democratic leadership.


When I become the leader of my community, l will make sure that I advocate for the rights of refugees in Uganda, empower their initiatives and ideas, and help them get access to services such as basic needs (Food, Shelter, Education, Health Centers…), offices helping refugees, and jobs.

I understand that being a refugee in a different country is a big challenge, especially with a language barrier. To try to overcome that challenge, as a leader, l think Functional Adult Literacy can help refugees better communicate and express themselves in different offices, and help them interact with nationals like Ugandans.”

I think we should all applaud Kassim for his achievements and goals. Kassim is one of Africa’s true Young Leaders and we should all push him to keep empowering his community, as change only comes one step at a time.

Perhaps one day he can truly meet Obama in person. But in the time being, we should all try to get out Kassim’s story, and the story of the thousands of other struggling Congolese refugees.

Kassim would also love to hear from you, so if you would like to contact him you can email binhussein2010@yahoo.fr.

Dan Dyson Music-“Thank you Lord”


Greeting to all my readers, thank you for continuing to follow Café Avra!

I apologize for only posting around every 10 days the last couple of weeks, though I am pleased to inform that my schedule will lighten up a bit over September/October and I will be posting more regularly.

So, it has been almost 3 months since I arrived in Nairobi and I feel continually blessed to be here.

One thing, among many, that I truly appreciate about Kenyans are their appreciation of g-d and how it actually is stranger if you do not go to Church on Sunday rather than if you do.

It is okay, in mainstream conversation, to speak on the gifts and strength g-d has given us, without people looking at you like you might be a bit ‘off’.

I also find it fascinating that I am the first Jewish person that both Kenyans, and expatriates (even U.N. workers) have ever met. My preconception on coming to Kenya was that considering Kenya was a former British Colony, and mainstream British tendencies tend to combine Judaism and the belief in g-d with the Israel-Palestine Conflict, that people might automatically feel a certain bias towards my religion, although they still might like me as a person.

On the contrary. They are interested, fascinated sometimes, curious, and there is always solidarity when two people can agree and say….g-d is good. They think my Shabbat is quite strange, yet respect it. I actually have yet to really get a negative reaction to my Judaism.

I want to highlight a friend of mine today, Dan Dyson.  Daniel is a Ugandan Gospel Singer, living in Kenya, who has been through quite a lot in his life, (to be featured on a later date) but yet his faith is so strong and he soulfully shows his passion for g-d through his music.

I look up to someone like Daniel for not being afraid  to be who he is, show his love for g-d openly, and just being a wonderful, kind, and energetic soul.

I would like to highlight a catchy music video he made for his song, “Thank you Lord”, which he recorded in a studio outside Nairobi.

Now please give Daniel a shout out for such a powerful, high voice! I do not know many women who can reach those notes.

You rock my friend:)

To continue to follow his music, Daniel and I  have worked together the last few weeks on his website, which is still in construction, though at this time you can also hear two other songs from his album, Thank you Lord, “The Lord is my Sheperd” and “Body & Soul” on the LISTEN column of the site:

Link: http://dandysonmusic.wordpress.com/listen/

Thank you Daniel! G-d Bless.

Café Avra @ Uganda

Café Avra will be taking a short break for a few days due to very slow and basically non-existent Internet here in Kampala.

First impressions of Kampala: quite similar to Nairobi in structure, although the weather is more tropical and it is built on hills so there is usually a beautiful view of the horizon. Ugandans seem a bit more laid back then the Kenyans living in Nairobi, so things are nice and easy. So 25 minutes here mean about 1 hour and 15 minutes instead of about 45 in Nairobi:) Traffic is bad during rush hour; though I seem to be breathing better here–not as many fumes as in Nairobi!

Funniest thing about Kampala: We are staying in an apartment complex that rivals apartment blocks in Bosnia in the 1970’s. Difference? Large storks surround the complex and they are not delivering babies. Freaky! Pictures to come…(too slow to upload!)

In other news…since the bombings on July 11th here in Kampala, the security has increased quite a bit around the center of the city, and most Ugandans and expats here seem calm.

Work wise, the HIAS team is working effortlessly with the collaboration of their partner here in Uganda, Refugee Law Project, interviewing for resettlement mainly Congolese Refugees who have been through some of the worst experiences I have ever heard, both in their home country and even when seeking refuge here in Uganda.

This includes sexual torture for both men and women. Men getting sodomized in jails as young as 13, women who have contracted HIV from being raped as young as 10 years old and then forced to breast feed their child (who didn’t contract the virus by birth) because of lack of assistance. Men forced to rape their family members.

It is terrible and this is happening now. One of the refugees reached Kampala in December of 2009. 7 months ago.

The UNHCR in Uganda does not seem to give the same assistance to both urban refugees and refugees living in camps as they do in Kenya. Their wait times for Refugee Status Determination are twice as long and are getting denied assistance and resettlement on a higher rate.

This is why HIAS is playing such an important role here trying to resettle just a fraction of these horrible cases. I have a few more days here in Kampala and will be interviewing staff at the Refugee Law Project, and our HIAS Staff, for their insights on this situation.

~Amy @ Makerere University in Kampala

Welcome to Eastleigh.

Welcome to Eastleigh, Nairobi.

One of the slums of Nairobi where many Ethiopian and Somali Refugees currently live.

If you might be wondering where I am working this summer, I am doing media consulting for the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya (based in Nairobi), a subsidiary of The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Let me first give you a short background of what HRTK does and why their services are highly needed. First off, conflicts in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to seek safe haven in Kenya and Uganda. (HRTK does missions to Uganda 3+ times per year).

HRTK provides protection, psychosocial counseling and resettlement assistance to these vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees who are mostly survivors of torture and/or sexual/gender-based violence.

Preparing for a few months before coming to HRTK, I knew in my mind that they worked directly with these vulnerable refugee groups, but as we all know…Seeing is believing.

I was surprised with my initial shock the first time I had to look into the eyes of a refugee. I went with one of our protection officers to pick up a client from a Cultural Orientation (where they learn how to integrate in their new country—this specific case was the U.S.) and drop her back off in Eastleigh, a slum of Nairobi where a lot of Ethiopian and Somali refugees live. It is my gut instinct to smile when I meet new people. So I smiled, and instantly I thought…no, Amy, don’t smile, this is not a happy moment. This woman—well, girl, about 19 years old—of the Oromo ethnic group from Ethiopia has been through trauma I could never even imagine.

We are then sitting next to each other in the back seat of the car and I pretty much froze. I did not know how to act or what to say. I was also very thirsty, but didn’t want to take out my purchased 1 Liter bottle of clean water right next to her. That would be rubbing that I have money into her face, right? And I can’t talk to her because we don’t speak the same language. But then again, HRTK is helping this young girl start a new life, so this is a happy moment, right?

And that is only the beginning. I haven’t even heard her story yet.

Eastleigh is where she lives.

I will also be writing a blog directly for HIAS, called HIASserve.

I want to share with you one of the many cases HRTK handles for possible resettlement.

The case is not of the 19-year old from above, but from another young woman from Somalia.


Nationality: Somali
Ethnicity: Mandiban
Gender: Female

Reasons and Route for flight

I first fled my country for Kenya in 2005. I came with my son who is sick (with Hydrocephalus, an excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain). I left Somalia because I had been shot at by armed Hawiye (a Somali Clan) men. I come from a very small clan in Somalia called the Madhiban. The bigger tribes use us like slaves.

Please visit the full story:   “A Refugee Wishes they had your problems”

Thank you for listening.

There is a poster hanging in the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya Office from the UNHCR that says, “Your Sympathy cannot help a refugee. But it is a beginning.”

More to come from the field.