#SeeMeRefugee Story

From Survival to Humanitarian Service: Wani's Story

#SeeMeRefugee Story

From Survival to Humanitarian Service: Wani's Story

More than 100 million people are currently displaced worldwide (UNHCR, 2023).      

Their stories matter.

By listening to and understanding refugee stories in their own voices, we can cultivate empathy, foster understanding, and inspire action to support refugees worldwide.   

Wani is part of the Relief International team as a HR Systems and Compliance Officer.

This is his story.

Can you share your journey as a refugee?

My father was a part of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and in 1993, as the war intensified in my village in South Sudan, my mother and maternal grandmother decided to seek refuge in the neighboring country of Uganda.  

I was just two years old when we arrived at the refugee camp, too young to understand the full weight of our displacement and the resettlement challenges that lay ahead. Growing up as a refugee for 16 years, I came to know the hardships. Life in the camp was tough; we lacked sufficient land for cultivation and had to rely heavily on food aid. 

Education was accessible but came at the cost of walking over 15 kilometers to school each day. Healthcare was even more of a challenge, with the nearest primary healthcare center situated over 20 kilometers away. 

Living as a refugee often felt as though there was little hope for success or a decent life. Our worldview was constrained by constant survival mode and poverty, with dreams of a better future seeming distant. 

Yet, despite these challenges, the experience also fostered resilience and a deep appreciation for the opportunities that eventually came. In 2009, after 16 years in the refugee camp, we were finally able to repatriate. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your journey as a refugee? 

As a refugee, my biggest challenge was accessing water and relying solely on food rations from humanitarian agencies. Growing up within a refugee camp, I thought life was all about receiving food rations, maybe getting married, and the highest you could achieve is becoming a teacher – I didn’t know life beyond that could exist.

Everyone around us was living below the poverty line, including the host communities, but their only advantage was having enough land to cultivate unlike us. When I visited a nearby district town, I saw children playing with toys, and dressing well, and all I could think was “I wish I was born here.” I remember my first day seeing a live television football match, it amazed me to know there are developed places in the worldand how vastly different those developed places were from my own reality. 

What milestones are you most proud of since resettling? 


I am proud of the educational milestones I have achieved despite the challenges of growing up as a refugee. Access to affordable education was a lifeline, supported by humanitarian organizations, making it possible for us to attend school.  

I am proud of persevering with my education which ultimately led me to graduate with a Bachelor of Human Resource Management in 2015. This accomplishment opened the door to my career in the humanitarian sector, where I have been serving for nearly a decade. My role allows me to support and give back to the community, particularly those who, like me, have faced significant hardships. 

These achievements highlight the power of education and the hope it can bring to the refugee community. My life now is a reminder of the resilience I have built over the years.  

 If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?  

Being a refugee should never make you feel less. Never lose confidence and courage just because you are a refugee; you can still achieve success through your own spirit and the help that is out there. Remain hopeful that one day you will return home and contribute to the development of your beloved motherland. This hope can be your biggest motivator.

This World Refugee Week, what message would you like to share with the world? 

Being displaced and living as refugee is traumatizing. My message to the world is, wherever you are, be kind and act with the spirit of humanity. Your actions make a difference, no matter how minor they may seem. Offering support can be a lifeline to refugees and can bring them hope even in the most difficult times. 

In your opinion, what is Relief International doing that brings you hope? 

Relief International enabled me to serve the underprivileged communities in the capacity of HR Officer, through its interventions in areas affected by conflicts. Serving those communities gives me a chance to reflect on my life as a refugee, the challenges we went through, and the support we received from the humanitarian organizations – I pour my experiences into my own work. It has helped me to do my job with passion, knowing I am supporting to save lives the same way I was saved as a refugee.

With 97% of Relief International staff and volunteers being local nationals, our work is often rooted in shared realities and lived experiences, meaning the work we do to help communities recover and rebuild from crisis comes from a place of experience, empathy and compassion. 


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