On Day 181, a small group of young people made history in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda. These 25 youth – from Congo, Burundi, Eritrea – came together to form the very first Rotary Club in a refugee camp. After 112 years and about 31,000 clubs established, the Nakivale Rotaractors (youth Rotarians) will now go down in history as the first all-refugee club ever.
To mark the formation of any new club, Rotarians customarily complete a service project. The Nakivale Rotaractors chose to reach out to some of the more vulnerable in their community – elderly refugees. Pooling their own modest funds, the club purchased soap and sugar to distribute to the refugee seniors. We decided to do the doable and purchase extra sugar and soap and hand it over to the Rotaractors, so they could reach even more vulnerable members of their community.
Many of the refugee seniors were moved to tears. People in Nakivale look out for one another, but they’d never seen such a generous gesture as this.
Their service project was only the beginning of the day. Each member beamed with pride through the pinning ceremony as one-by-one they were initiated and became a part of the noble and global Rotary organization.
“We’re the first,” exclaimed Mwami, one of the Rotaract initiates. “This has never happened before, and it happened here in Nakivale. Wow!”
In attendance were Rotary members from throughout Uganda and as far away as Minnesota in the United States. Representatives from UNHCR and Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister were proud of the Nakivale Rotaractors, especially when they learned that this was, indeed, the first Rotary club in a refugee camp.
“Yes, you can make anything happen,” said Balam Niwandinu, a Rotarian who joined the festivities from hours away in Jinja, Uganda. “Believe in yourselves that anything is possible where there is love…because I believe that SERVICE goes with LOVE!”
They say big things have small beginnings. And the Nakivale Rotaractors are already thinking big about service to their community. On Day 181 we witnessed a small but joyful beginning. And we’re excited about what big things will come from these newest Rotarians.