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PO Box 2826
Carol Stream, Illinois 60132

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© 2024 Opportunity Internationala 501(c)3 nonprofit. EIN: 540907624.

Reaching Refugees

By Kelli Walker
Bitalie Biamo uses her sewing machine in her workshop in Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda (Photo Credit: Kate Holt / Opportunity International)
Bitalie Biamo uses her sewing machine in her workshop in Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda (Photo Credit: Kate Holt / Opportunity International)

Our vision is a world in which all people have the opportunity to achieve a life free from poverty, with dignity and purpose.

Opportunity International vision

Global Refugee Population

The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that there were over 108.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2022, of whom 35.3 million were refugees, and 62.5 million were internally displaced people. Upheaval and crisis continued into 2023: refugees and internally displaced people now account for more than 1% of the world’s population.

Opportunity International serves previously unreached and overlooked people living in the deepest poverty. We work in 31 countries with great need and even greater potential. We serve regardless of country of origin; within Opportunity countries like Colombia and Uganda we are serving large refugee communities in need.

Refugees—no matter how welcoming the host country may be—face constraints to achieving self-reliance:

  • Limited livelihood opportunities
  • Limited knowledge and skills, include low education and literacy levels
  • Language barriers
  • Lack of social capital
  • Lack of knowledge and information such as legal/bureaucratic barrier obstacles 
  • Gender constraints for women

Our proven three-pronged model of training, access to financial resources, and group support provides a life-changing foundation for families uprooted from their homes, jobs, and schools. The Opportunity initiatives below address those barriers, helping refugees—and often, their host communities as well—build a path to sustainable livelihoods.

Colombia

Of the current more than 10 million displaced persons in Colombia, an estimated 3 million are from neighboring Venezuela.

Between 2014 and 2023, the number of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia increased 612%. The people of Colombia—our loyal and hard-working local team of experts, the passionate and driven people who participate in Opportunity’s programs and the millions of displaced people from bordering, neighboring countries— inspire us to forge ahead with new and innovative approaches to fighting poverty among Colombians and our refugee brothers and sisters.

We have deployed a series of strategies that impact the most vulnerable communities on the North Coast of Colombia. Access to financial resources including loans and savings, and relevant financial literacy training create stability and sustainability.

Savings groups average about 15 members each and are a proven method of building financial experience with previously unbanked people. Measurable results include:

  • Creation and strengthening of savings habits
  • Creation of strong community networks
  • Increased resiliency
  • Improved financial literacy (savings and loans)
  • Training in other topics as identified by each group (e.g., conflict resolution, leadership)

In 2023, we added a new partnership that focused on reaching Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the Atlántico-Bolivar region of Colombia. The objective was to reach 200 new savings groups of migrants, which means reaching 3,000 new clients on average. Ultimately, we launched 211 new groups specifically for migrants and refugees, reaching 3,057 people.

Uganda

With over 1.6 million refugees and asylum seekers spread across 14 settlements, Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa. Most are from neighboring countries including South Sudan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, and Eritrea. Ongoing conflict and food insecurity in the region spark close to 3,000 new arrivals each week.

Over 90% of refugees live in designated refugee settlements where they co-exist with local communities, in areas which are amongst the poorest and most underdeveloped in the country. Over half of refugees in Uganda are children, many of whom arrive unaccompanied or become separated from their families. Uganda has one of the world’s most progressive refugee policies, and still refugees in Uganda face a multitude of challenges which impair their ability to integrate and become self-sufficient.

Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda (Photo Credit: Helen Manson / Opportunity International)
Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda (Photo Credit: Helen Manson / Opportunity International)

Since 2019, the Refugees: Innovation, Self-reliance, and Empowerment project in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda has focused on building resilience and promoting self-reliance among refugees by establishing income-generating activities and enhancing economic activity in settlements, thereby lessening dependency on humanitarian aid. Women refugees are especially vulnerable and so our interventions make a special effort to boost their confidence and increase their economic participation.

Nakivale continues to be a “hive of entrepreneurial activity” per our Opportunity colleagues in the United Kingdom:

  • Over 10,000 people have learned financial literacy (72% refugees, 28% hosts; 60% women, 19% people with disabilities)
  • Opportunity Bank Uganda Limited (OBUL) has disbursed $1M in loans and holds $6M in savings for refugees
  • 10,616 savings accounts have been opened
  • 2,367 business loans disbursed

In 2022 Opportunity was awarded a grant from The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment to extend the program by addressing the economic and capacity challenges faced by young refugees, which prevent them from accessing productive employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. The project targets 10,000 refugee youth (18-35 years) in Nakivale and Rwamwanja settlements and aims to create and/or improve jobs by supporting refugees to identify and initiate new business opportunities.

To date, through the program’s Youth Challenge Fund:

  • 10,332 refugee youth have learned financial literacy
  • 20 trainers—including refugees—have learned skills to manage the Business Development Services program with over 120 aspiring young refugee entrepreneur participants
  • 64 refugee-led social enterprises are progressing through business incubation and acceleration
  • 178 jobs have been created
  • 385 jobs have been improved with support from refugee-led organizations
Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda (Photo Credit: Kate Holt / Opportunity International)
Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda (Photo Credit: Kate Holt / Opportunity International)

Therese is a refugee from Democratic Republic of Congo. She and her five children now live in Nakivale, after her husband was taken and their neighbors killed. Thanks to Opportunity International, Therese hopes she can start a business in Uganda and build a safer and secure life for her children.

The Heart of Opportunity: Our People

Sephora is 19 years old and fled from the D.R. Congo with her family, arriving in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in 2017. 

She has established her own business called “Her Pride,” which supports girls and women through their menstruation. She has developed a cream that can be used to ease the symptoms and has designed a card game to inform girls about their menstruation. Through “Her Pride,” Sephora has supported over 200 women and girls.

On a visit to Nakivale in February 2023, we filmed Sephora’s inspirational story and then she captured her life in the settlement on film.

We continue reaching...

We honor the incredible resilience and determination of refugees worldwide. Opportunity's initiatives in Colombia and Uganda demonstrate the great impact that comprehensive support can have on displaced communities. By providing access to financial resources, training, and community networks, we are helping refugees rebuild their lives with dignity and purpose. Every story—like Sephora's, serves as a powerful reminder of what can be achieved when we invest in the potential of every individual. Together, we can continue to break down barriers, foster self-reliance, and create lasting change for refugees and their host communities.

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