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Serving Refugees in Uganda


ADRA’s Country Director for Uganda, Charles Ed II Aguilar, details some of ADRA’s projects for refugees, including building solar wells, classrooms and playgrounds, and providing reusable sanitary pads. He explains why Uganda has “the friendliest refugee policy in the world.”

Question: As ADRA's Country Director for Uganda. I understand a major part of your work is in a Sudanese refugee camp. How big is the camp? Why are the refugees there?

Answer: As of February 2019, there are 1.2 million registered refugees (verified through biometric verification). The largest number are coming from South Sudan with about 801,000 registered. The rest are from Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, and more.

Uganda has the friendliest refugee policy in the entire world. Uganda doesn’t put refugees in camps, but rather in settlements — where refugees have freedom to move around the country and are given a small plot of land where they can build their new “home” and do backyard gardening for sustainability.

There are 14 refugee settlements in Uganda. Bidibidi Refugee Settlement is the largest, with more than 224,000 South Sudanese refugees.

In 2018, ADRA was present in six of the 14 refugee settlements.

The refugees coming from South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo are mostly fleeing from war and violence.

Can you tell us about some of the projects ADRA is working on in the settlement?

ADRA is implementing several projects in the refugee settlements. Our largest activity right now is our partnership with the United Nations World Food Program where we assist with complementary food assistance to more than 60,000 refugees from Congo.

ADRA also constructed solar wells, playgrounds, classrooms, community centres, dormitories, latrines and bathing shelters.

In 2018, ADRA was tasked to help mitigate the environmental damage in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, ADRA planted over 100,000 trees (with more than 70% survival rate — which is above the standards). Part of ADRA’s climate change adaptation and environmental protection projects included: building the capacity of refugees to protect trees, building of energy-saving stoves and using alternative energy/fuel like char-briquettes (made out of charcoal dust and biomass/biowaste).

With funding coming from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the ADRA Network, we are building a hospital in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement. This project is in partnership with Adventist Help, a Swiss registered medical/health NGO with past projects in Iraq and Greece.

I created a short video that summarizes ADRA’s projects in the West Nile region of Uganda, and a video report on one of the solar wells ADRA built.

Aguilar (far left) with UNHCR officers and Elkhidir Daloum, UN WFP Country Director (center) monitoring one of the food distribution points in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement operated by ADRA

So ADRA is working with other NGOs on these projects?

ADRA cannot do the work alone. We coordinate and work with partners and NGOs in the refugee settlements. We work with local governments and the national/central governments as well as Ugandan government ministries and United Nations agencies like WFP and UNHCR.

Currently, ADRA is part of a consortium of five agencies working on a proposal to open a project in one of the newer refugee settlements hosting Congolese refugees. The five agencies are:

• Church of Sweden (lead coordinator)

• Lutheran World Foundation (water, hygiene and sanitation lead)

• Action Against Hunger (livelihoods lead)

• Norwegian Refugee Council (education lead)

• ADRA (climate change adaptation and environmental protection lead)

I believe one of your big projects has been supplying reusable sanitary pads to women in the refugee camp. Lack of sanitary supplies has been a news-grabbing topic lately, with the Oscar-winning Period. End of Sentence. in the spotlight. Can you tell us how this project came about?

The project concept came about from inter-agency and cluster meetings coordinated by UNHCR and Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda. ADRA did its assessments and the findings were consistent with the data from inter-agency and cluster meetings.

The sanitary pad issue also hit the national media.

ADRA responded with funding coming from ADRA Denmark, ADRA Sweden, ADRA Canada and the ADRA network.

How big is your team in Uganda, and where are the ADRA workers from?

For ADRA Uganda, we have more than 200 staff coming from different tribes and religious backgrounds.

Where does ADRA Uganda's major funding come from?

Our major funding comes from the following agencies and offices: United Nations World Food Program, Governments of Sweden (through ADRA Sweden), Denmark (through ADRA Denmark), Austria (through ADRA Austria), Canada (through ADRA Canada), Norway (through ADRA Norway), the Latter-day Saints Church and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

What are the biggest challenges ADRA Uganda faces?

Human resources is a big challenge in ADRA Uganda. The turnover rate is significant.

What other projects is ADRA Uganda working on, besides those in the refugee settlement?

On the development side, ADRA is engaged in several people-centred (grassroots) advocacy initiatives, from advocating for the human rights of the most-discriminated people group in East-Central Africa to the banning of the sale of alcohol in several Karamajong communities.

How long have you been in Uganda? Have you served as country director in other places?

I will be approaching my third year in Uganda. This is my first ADRA post as Country Director.

In my 17 years as a pastor serving in the British Columbia Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada (Canadian Union), I have implemented several ADRA Canada funded projects and activities and also helped with ADRA fundraising initiatives.

I have worked as a youth pastor, school chaplain, and church planter. Before moving to Uganda, I worked for four years as the Communication Director for the British Columbia Conference.

What do you spend most of your day doing during a typical work day in Uganda?

A typical day would be emails, phone calls, donor meetings and staff meetings. My typical work week would be meetings with the UN and government, church leaders, cluster and sector meetings with other country directors of other NGOs. Field monitoring visits are scheduled at least once a month.

What do you most like about your job? What do you wish were different?

What I like most about my job is that I get to see and experience the tangible impact that ADRA (and the Seventh-day Adventist Church) is having in Uganda (and around the world). I also like the fact that ADRA doesn’t work alone in a silo. We work with other faith-based NGOs (like Catholic Relief Services, Samaritans Purse, Lutheran World Foundation, Danish Church Aid, etc.) and other like-minded organizations and communities. By working together, we will be able to serve humanity so all may live as God intended.

What do you wish more people knew about Uganda?

Uganda, with a per capita income of under US$170, is one of the poorest countries in the world — but that doesn’t stop Uganda from implementing the friendliest refugee policies in the entire world! Uganda provides rights to the refugees — such as rights to education, work, private property, healthcare and other basic social services. I love Uganda!


Top Photo: Charles interacting with UN WFP Programme Policy Officer in one of the recent monitoring activities with ADRA. Photos courtesy of Charles Ed II Aguilar.

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.


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