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A Queer Father's Fight for Survival

When Obote Kawenkene, one of the founders of Rainbow Family Support and Advocacy-Africa (RaFaSa), fled Uganda out of fear he would be persecuted because of his identity as a bisexual man, he did not flee alone.

A husband and father of three, Obote quickly learned that the programs for refugees in Kenya to assist refugees were not well setup to support families. For instance, while there were groups that gave food supplies to refugees, “a person living alone and family were receiving the same thing.” He went on to describe, “they only consider the case number, so if you have your dependents under your case number, they don’t acknowledge that”.

With limited access to resources and limited means of making an income—especially as he continues to face prejudice for his identity in Kenya—Obote and his family were evicted from their rental apartments again and again.

“They confiscate your things. We have had to buy bedding over again. You feel prepared for them to confiscate your things and just move out.”

Facing difficulties repeatedly, people tell Obote “if you can't support your family in Nairobi, take them to a camp. But the situation in the camp is dire. It's not the best place to raise a child. It's not the best place to be.

RaFaSa was born out of the realization that there were many LGBTIQ families that were facing similar hardships. “I realized there are parents in our community, and I imagined what I was going through, was similar to what other parents were going through. And most of them were even hiding their children. They didn't want people to see them because there was that stereotype that a queer refugee cannot have children.”

In 2019, Obote worked to bring together families like his own to form their own community- based organization (CBO) that would respond to the concerns of LGBTIQ families. “At first, they were hesitant, but I got three people who came together so that we could form an organization that focused on our concerns and give support. Everyone was like, ‘Yeah, let's do it, let's do it.’”

For RaFaSa to be able to support LGBTIQ families, they needed to attend skills-based trainings and secure funding to start livelihood projects that would provide a reliable income. Their members began attending many of the trainings offered through RefCEA including the one provided by ORAM on poultry farming. From there, RaFaSa jumped at the opportunity to apply for seed funding ORAM was offering organizations to start a poultry farm of their own. Out of over 10 organizational applications, they were one of the three who were successful.

We started small, we have not grown so big. At least we have something.” The income from the livelihood project has been used to support the LGBTIQ families that RaFaSa serves, including giving much needed rent assistance so that families will not be evicted the way that Obote’s had been.

In addition to the monetary benefit offered by the farm, there is a significant mental one as well. “Many people cannot go out to work. First of all, because they are not Kenyan and second of all, they are not only refugees but queer. Especially our trans brothers and sisters. Okay, we all face this discrimination but for them, they stand out.” Working on the poultry farm gives people a sense of purpose. “Even if it was just to sweep and clean the poultry sheds, I saw people really looking forward to working.” Obote has seen that this is especially important for parents who want their children to be proud of the work they were doing.

Despite RaFaSa’s hard won successes, which has made their community more resilient and less dependent on receiving food assistance from others, they are nevertheless in an ongoing battle to provide sustainable support and assistance to the LGBTIQ refugee families they serve. As Obote and RaFaSa look to the future, they are both quick to seize any chance to further their financial survival while remaining open minded about and new opportunities that come their way. Obote notes that some of the people in his community came from highly trained backgrounds, like one woman who was a medical professional before she had to flee her country of origin. They now find themselves in very different circumstances, unable to pursue the careers they once had. Even receiving training from someone who is much younger than oneself can be a humbling experiencing.

But to LGBTIQ refugees who find themselves in very different professional and personal circumstances than they might have had in their country of origin, Obote would advise them “accept that life has changed. And that life has to go on.

UPDATE: RaFaSa has now received additional boost funding from ORAM for their poultry farm and their farm is growing from strength to strength.

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