Xavier Project was founded in 2008 when Edmund Page visited Kampala as a volunteer. He was working in an informal community run school where he witnessed children aged 15 who could not recognise ABC. Most of these children were Congolese refugees and had recently moved to Kampala. The large refugee focused agencies in Uganda were not adequately adjusted to the large influx of refugees to the urban setting and as a result thousands of refugees in Kampala were missing out on basic services. Edmund returned to St Andrews University and organised a party that raised £1500 to help some of these children pay school fees in local government schools. This ‘Bongo Ball’, was the first Xavier Project event and it was lucky it ever went ahead. One the morning of the day scheduled for the Ball the police closed down the event because of a failure to comply with the adequate licencing. Nevertheless, three weeks later the event was held and the 400 attendees made it a night to remember.
In 2009 Edmund travelled to Nairobi, Kenya and saw for himself the number of refugee children in Nairobi who were not in school. This motivated him to try and raise money for a handful of students there which he did in the form of a grant from a small charity called Eagle Aid. Eagle Aid made it possible for Xavier Project to recruit 32 children in total, 16 in Kampala and 16 in Nairobi and most of these students started their studies at the beginning of 2010. Edmund recruited Sedrick Murhula in Kampala and Edwin Ariz in Nairobi to co-ordinate the sponsorship programme while he remained in London teaching English. In 2010 the first attempt at a Livelihoods programme was started when Edmund, Edwin and Sedrick helped some parents of Xavier Project students to start a fridge mending business. Two other small businesses were opened soon after but they were not all a huge success. Only one of them is still running today.
In 2011 Edmund Page gave up teaching in London to move to Nairobi full-time. It was around this time that the seeds of Tamuka were sown, while Edmund and Edwin were visiting various refugee community leaders to ask them about gaps in the services to urban refugees. By this time, Frank Dunia was also involved in the sponsorship programme in Nairobi and he helped Xavier Project to launch a free SMS code so that refugees could air their views anonymously and at no cost. The texts were displayed on the Xavier Project homepage. Edgar Kawooya joined the team in Uganda at the end of 2011 and Sedrick left to work more closely with Robert on their organisation YARID, with whom Xavier Project has always partnered closely. Meanwhile in Nairobi Sharon replaced Edwin who wanted to focus on his studies. Rafiki Fabrix was launched soon after the beginning of 2012 which brought Anna Nsimire to the team. This was our second attempt at livelihoods and it would not be the last.
Stephen Windsor had been in touch with Xavier Project for several months while he was still in New Zealand and at the beginning of 2012 he came to Kampala and we worked with him closely for a while. He finally joined the team as director of education in Uganda in August 2012 when we obtained funding from Avonbrook Projects Abroad for his salary. Stephen immediately got stuck in to an English course that he had devised in Kampala that would run over Christmas 2012 for young refugees who could not access education in Kampala because of a lack of English. In early 2013 Stephen opened the mobile library, an initiative that brought individualised reading tuition to schools in Kampala with high populations of refugees. The mobile library team brought short children’s books to the schools in a bag and read with children from P2-4 in groups of four to eight. Stephen also expanded Xavier Project’s work into Congo where ten secondary school students are now sponsored though the education programme. Meanwhile, Tamuka had been growing. Thanks to a grant from SPICMA Xavier Project opened a media hub in Kampala. Alex Kubana was recruited to teach social media courses there and Tatiana Hakiza was the secretary and looked after the 12 computers, projector, generator and satellite TV. On July 20th 2012 the hub was launched, marked by an opening ceremony with speeches from partner agencies and UNHCR.
Throughout 2012 the Xavier Project team became more involved in UNHCR working groups, most notably co-ordianting a piece of research into access to education by refugees in Kampala, and the access, quality and relevance of education for refugees in Nairobi. This later led to a strategy and a work plan that Xavier Project put together for the education working group.
At the end of 2012 the livelihoods programme was resurrected in the form of ‘Kasirye’, named after one of our volunteers in Uganda who sadly passed away. Kasirye moved away from the model of giving loans or finance to refugee start-ups to providing business services such as accounting and consulting to existing successful businesses. The businesses would not have to pay for the service but in return would agree to employ refugees when the businesses expanded. Kasirye developed in 2013 with a partnership with kiva.org. Kiva were running a pilot scheme that included sending interest free loans to entrepreneurs by Mpesa, Kenya’s mobile money platform. The Kasirye team were able to recommend loans for refugees under the scheme as ‘trustees’ of Kiva. Kasirye was led by Mildred Mugenya, a trained accountant with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
In February 2013 all Xavier Project staff met in Asembo Kenya for a four day conference. It was the first time all ten members of staff had met all at once and it enabled the team to unify their vision. There were three concurrent programmes running under Education, Kasirye and Tamuka but the conference enabled all departments to see cross-overs in their services and integrate their programmes better.
Xavier Project Education in Kenya was becoming an increasingly busy department as UNHCR had enlisted the team to implement various aspects of the new working team strategy. Out of the strategy Xavier Project would go on to open two new education programmes – the female empowerment programme which aimed primarily to promote the education of refugee girls and the teacher sensitisation programme which raised awareness on refugee issues with teachers in Nairobi schools. As a result it was becoming clear that a dedicated director was needed for the department. Richard Skone James took on the roll after spending two months volunteering with Xavier Project in both Kampala and Nairobi. Richard also led a research into education for refugees living in Kisumu, but it was found that there was not enough need in Kisumu to start planning interventions by Xavier Project. Richard went on to reform the sponsorship programme to make it easier for students, staff and sponsors to engage with each other. In particular the students were divided into ‘houses’ and designated specific sponsors and a Xavier Project member of staff. The houses form a small unit of different stakeholders who can easily share their challenges and ambitions and above all promote the wider education and growth of the students in that house.
Meanwhile Edmund Rous Eyre had been growing a team of refugees who were writing and publishing a small newsletter in both Kampala and Nairobi. The newsletter started as a two sided A4 leaflet that reached a circulation of 500 in each city. However, in mid-2013 a proposal was sent to SPICMA to expand the newsletter and run it effectively for at least two and a half years. The SPICMA grant enabled the Tamuka team to expand the publication into an 8 page spread, with two colours, and advertising space. The newsletter included news and views written by refugees for refugees written in at least four languages. It was printed 5000 times in each Nairobi and Kampala and was widely distributed by community leaders and NGO’s. At around the same time, Tamuka Hub Kampala celebrated its first birthday with a series of speeches followed by refreshments. The event was well attended by refugees and agencies including UNHCR and the British High Commissioner.
In UK the Bongo Balls in St Andrews had grown to the extent that in 2013 it was raising over £10,000 consistently. In 2013 the first Bongo Ball was held in London and in 2014, under the name Xavier Ball it raised £9000 for Xavier Project. Other support groups began popping up over UK, and by 2014 there were groups in Edinburgh, Oxford and reading universities. Various individuals were undertaking fundraising efforts such as the Arch to Arc challenge in which five guys ran, rowed and biked from London to Paris, raising over £6000 for Xavier Project. When Ashley Beckett joined Xavier Project in 2014 as communications director it made it much easier to portray our message to our supporters in UK and elsewhere. Ashley also built links with NGO’s in Nairobi which led to numerous useful partnerships. In particular, for World Refugee Day 2014 various agencies including UNHCR used the Tamuka website www.tamuka.org as a platform to speak out about the realities of refugee lives in Nairobi.