Samson Bigirimana with some of his goats at Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, Uganda.
Samson Bigirimana, 26, was no different from other child refugees who entered Uganda amidst uncertainty, close to 20 years ago. But he has made a mark through farming.
As this year’s World Refugee Day was marked with the theme “Get to Know Refugees. They are people like you and me”, Bigirimana’s remarkable resilience is an exemplar of what one can accomplish in the face of adversity.
In 1999, aged only eight, Bigirimana came from Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) to Uganda through Bunagana in Kisoro district. He was fleeing clashes in his country.
Bigirimana came to Uganda alone. When his home was attacked, the family members escaped for their lives. He has not had any communication with his family, since he has no trace of any of his relatives. He is clueless as to whether they still alive or not.
He briefly settled in Nyakabande Refugee Transit camp in Kisoro before UNHCR relocated him to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. In Kyangwali, Bigirimana, enrolled at Kinakitaka Primary School. He later joined Kyangwali Secondary School, before switching to Duhaga Secondary school in Hoima District, where he studied Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Entrepreneurship to secure a place at university. However, Bigirimana’s hopes of studying Computer Science at university did not materialise, as he could not raise the requisite fees.
Bigirimana started pig-farming with only two piglets, while still in school. But it was a challenge to handle farming and school at the same time. So he shelved his dream until 2010 when he started goat rearing.
In 2012, AAH Uganda took him on as an employee, to support a nutrition project for covering health centres in the settlement. Bigirimana continued with his farming. Initially, starting with only four goats, the number increased to 60, over a span of five years. He also farms two acres of Irish potatoes, maize, and beans, and employs at least ten people (fellow refugees) every season. He pays each Ush 300,000 (about US100), monthly.
He has received training in farming and AAH Uganda sometimes gives him improved maize and bean seeds to plant. The settlement is his major market - a population that includes, refugees, members of the local host community refugees, and staff of NGOs.
Fondly referred to as “wise man” by many people within the settlement, Bigirimana says he started learning farming skills, when he was five, his father owned a herd of over 100 cattle and goats.
When the goats accumulate, he sells them at an average of Ush 200,000 -250,000 (USD 80-90) each. The goats are mainly bought by the nationals around the settlement. He says his refugee status cannot hamper his ambition to be a successful farmer. “My life is an adventure still being written,” he says poetically, and with humility.
“Any refugee who cannot live their dreams while in Kyangwali Settlement will never do so elsewhere,” Bigirimana says. “We have free fertile land, free medication, free water…basically everything here is provided by AAH Uganda.”
His business has enabled to him buy two motorcycles, and to start a money lending venture. His clientele include fellow refugees, and staff working for different agencies operating within the settlement.
However, he faces a number of challenges, such a as limited availability of veterinary services and limited land for expansion. He hopes to save about Ush 1000,000 (USD 3300) in order to buy more land so that he can embark on large scale farming