Cultivating Hope: Poni Rukia’s Journey from Displacement to Empowerment.

In the peaceful lands of the Omugo Refugee Settlement in Uganda’s Terego District, a remarkable story of resilience and transformation unfolds.

DCA Uganda

Poni Rukia is a refugee from South Sudan who arrived in Uganda in January 2018 after fleeing conflict in her homeland. Her journey from hopelessness to empowerment serves as a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of community support.

When Poni first arrived in Uganda, she and her fellow refugees were overwhelmed with feelings of despair and displacement. “We were hopeless, marginalized, worried, and displaced,” Poni recalls. “Fortunately, we were given land to stay in Omugo refugee settlement.” This allocation of land ignited a spark of hope among the refugees, yet they still faced numerous challenges in their new environment.

Training makes a difference

Initially, Poni and others in the settlement had no prospects for the future. However, their situation began to change when they underwent psychosocial training, which boosted their confidence and helped them adapt to life in the refugee camp. They received valuable training in women’s leadership, group dynamics, and the savings culture through the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), which became crucial for their self-reliance.

In 2019, Poni encountered DanChurchAid (DCA) through the Orange Flesh Sweet Potato Project. Funded by Danida Market Development Partnerships (DMDP) and implemented by DanChurchAid Uganda, the project aimed to create a prosperous, peaceful, and greener Uganda by addressing climate change and supporting refugees from South Sudan and DR Congo. This initiative, in collaboration with Lishe and Nordic Fruit, also focused on food security and economic opportunities by cultivating nutrient-rich orange flesh sweet potatoes in West Nile, one of Uganda’s poorest regions.

Assuming a leadership role

Poni’s leadership qualities soon shone through, and she became the chairperson of the Lomore Women’s Group, an association inspired by DCA. Under her leadership, the group began cultivating orange flesh sweet potatoes, significantly improving their situation, and giving them both a source of food and a source of income. “We cultivated sweet potatoes for export and consumed part of them since they are high in vitamin A and help us supplement our diet,” Poni explains. Treating farming as a business, the group saved proceeds from their sales through the VSLA, empowering them economically.

The success of Poni’s group inspired the formation of five more groups, totaling 330 members, including men, women, and youth. This inclusive approach fostered unity and mutual support, breaking down barriers between refugees and the host community. “We now have two women’s groups, two mixed-gender groups, and one youth group. We have 142 men and 188 women in total,” Poni proudly states.

Still challenges despite success

Despite their progress, the group faced significant challenges. Prolonged sunshine due to extreme weather conditions affected their yields, and a reduction in food supplies led to increased theft in the settlement. To combat these issues, DCA in partnership with the World Resource Institute (WRI) and Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), trained farmers in the use of renewable energy irrigation systems that boost productivity and allow the farmers to grow more crops for longer, especially during the dry season.

A versatile potato

Poni’s dedication extends beyond agriculture. She leads efforts to educate the local community on cultivating their food, managing farming as a business, and developing a savings culture. “For instance, using sweet potato puree to bake cakes, cookies, and mandazis,” she shares, highlighting the added value they create from their produce.

The relationship between the refugees and the host community has flourished through these initiatives. “We realized we couldn’t cultivate Orange Flesh Sweet Potatoes on our own when we first started working, that is why I persuaded more refugee and host community members to join our association, which has improved our social and economic ties.” Poni remarks.

Refugees are welcomed

Poni’s journey from displacement to empowerment reflects the theme of World Refugee Day 2024: For a World Where Refugees Are Welcomed. Her story highlights the importance of providing refugees with opportunities to rebuild their lives and contribute to their communities. Poni’s long-term goal is to purchase land in Uganda and build a home, ensuring a stable future for her children.

“Although I feel like a refugee, I’m extremely happy to be in Uganda. There are no insecurity concerns here, everything is well, and Uganda is peaceful. I will never return to South Sudan because my long-term objective is to buy land here in Uganda and construct a home.”

Poni M. Rukia’s story reflects hope, demonstrating how refugees, with the right support, can overcome adversity and thrive. Her journey is a powerful reminder that welcoming refugees enriches communities, fosters resilience, and builds a brighter future for all.


Uganda hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, with over 1.5 million refugees, primarily from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi. The country is renowned for its progressive refugee policies, granting refugees the right to work, freedom of movement, and access to public services. However, Uganda’s refugee and host communities face significant challenges. High levels of malnutrition and food insecurity are prevalent due to limited access to nutritious food and a lack of awareness about maximizing nutritional value. Women and children are particularly affected, especially female-headed households, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and school-age children.
As the refugee population continues to grow, there is also increased pressure on land and natural resources such as water and forests, leading to accelerated environmental degradation. This environmental strain is especially pronounced in refugee-hosting districts, exacerbating the challenges faced by both refugees and host communities. Efforts to address these issues are critical to ensuring the well-being and sustainability of Uganda’s refugee response.

Number of Refugees in Uganda
As of the end of March 2024, Uganda is host to 1,660,524[1] refugees (1,611,732) and asylum seekers (48,792), 91% of whom reside in settlements located in thirteen rural refugee hosting districts and 9% in urban Kampala. The refugees are mainly from South Sudan (56%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (31%), while the remaining 13% are from 31 other countries. Women and children constitute 81% of the population, the elderly (60 years and over) 3%, and youth (15-24 years) 24%.

New Refugees Arriving in Uganda
As of June 6th, 2024, 61,508 new arrivals. 12,874 South Sudan 11,795 DR Congo 13,176 Other Nationalities 23,663 Sudan.

This article was published on World Refugee Day 20th June 2024.”
For a World Where Refugees Are Welcomed – World Refugee Day 2024

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