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  • Writer's pictureKyle Kvamme

Once hungry, a transgender Ugandan refugee feeds others thanks to a new ORAM project

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Pictured: A garden at Freedom House Initiative, an LGBTIQ refugee-led community-based organization (CBO) founded by the current director, Lee*.

As the Zoom call connects to a room, Lee* appears on the screen and instructs several people to leave. "I'd like a bit more privacy," she shares. Lee is currently providing housing for nearly 20 other refugees outside of Nairobi. "Feeding 20 people is very hard," she sighs.

Lee, who is transgender, is the leader of Freedom House Initiative, an LGBTIQ refugee-led community-based organization (CBO) working "to rehabilitate, advocate, support, and enhance economic livelihood skills" of the community. While Lee is currently able to support several other LGBTIQ refugees, it was only a short time ago she needed support herself.

She arrived in Kenya in 2018 after fleeing Uganda because of the discrimination she faced from her community due to her gender identity. Upon arriving in Kenya, Lee was relocated to Kakuma Refugee Camp, where her challenges escalated. After experiencing violence in the form of attacks, Lee and a few other refugees were relocated to Nairobi.

Once resettled in Nairobi, the group found themselves with no money and struggling to find food independently. They found a more affordable housing option about an hour outside Nairobi. Once the group established themselves in their new community, other refugees joined them. Lee found a new leadership role in caring for her fellow refugees, and Freedom House Initiative was born.

"I had no option other than working," Lee shared about her drive to continue to support her fellow community members, even when times were hard. "Sometimes I don’t eat... it's very hard for me," she admitted.

Lee began taking care of poultry to make a living to support herself and her fellow LGBTIQ refugees at Freedom House Initiative. Through hard work and determination, Lee started a restaurant to earn money and help cook for the nearly twenty members of Freedom House Initiative. Additionally, Lee has been able to employ members of Freedom House Initiative through the restaurant: "for them [the members], they are able to contribute... it's beneficial [for them]."

Pictured: Poultry at Freedom House Initiative.

Earlier this year, ORAM started a "kitchen gardening" program, funded by Center for Disaster Philanthropy, to help address food insecurity among LGBTIQ refugees in Kenya due to, among other factors, the ongoing drought in the region. Lee and the members of Freedom House Initiative signed on as participants of this program.

To kick off the program, ORAM hosted a training at Freedom House Initiative in September 2023 for LGBTIQ refugees participating in the project. "The training was perfect! It opened our minds. We had the space, but it was not being used. Right now, when you look at it, it's so green. We just needed to know what to do," Lee professed excitedly.

Pictured: Produce at Freedom House Initiative.

While the project is off to a great start, and Freedom House Initiative had a successful harvest, they still face several challenges. “When it’s not rainy, it’s hard to water the vegetables. We have a water tank, but when it’s dry season, a lot of water is needed,” Lee explained.

Despite the challenges they are experiencing, Lee is proud Freedom House Initiative is partnering with ORAM. Lee believes ORAM’s community approach to sustainability is the key for LGBTIQ refugees to achieve self-sufficiency. “The problem is, people give them [LGBTIQ refugees] money, then they have nothing. The difference with ORAM is that they train. They train and then provide many people want to work, they have no idea where to start,” she said.

As my conversation with Lee ends, she remains hopeful and optimistic in the face of adversity. “I’m not giving up,” she tells me.

Thank you, Lee, for your leadership at Freedom House Initiative and for participating in ORAM’s kitchen gardening program!

Click here to help ORAM continue our kitchen gardening program and other economic empowerment projects for LGBTIQ refugees.

*Lee’s name has been changed to protect her safety.

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