1. Can you tell us about your historical background?
My name is Elias Msoshi and I am a young entrepreneur born into a poor family in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now I am 29 years old, and live as refugee in the Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania. As It is known universally, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been experiencing many periods and events of atrocities and endless civil wars through all its corners. In 1996 when I was still young old, I was forced to flee my homeland to look for peace in Tanzania. This event, however, had a particular and lasting impact on me. I witnessed people committing illegal killings without any reasonable ground. I experienced fear and violence, the effects of which are enduring. As victim, I watched my community being destroyed and was separated from my parents in the chaos. My fellow children were abducted by combatants and forced to be child soldiers or sex slaves. Due to the turmoil, an estimated 120,000+ refugees from DR Congo have fearfully escaped to Tanzania, the majority of which were women and children. I was very young when the civil war forced me to quit my country to live as an orphan in the refugee camp. The severity of the problems and their enormous consequences has, in turn, forced me to ask myself: What can I do to help my fellow children? This question is what constituted the birth of the idea for the Refugee Youth Empowerment Network, or RYENET.
2. What is a refugee camp, can you explain?
I have been living in Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania for more than 15 years. It takes courage to be a refugee!
To me, it is profoundly hurtful that in Nyarugusu camp, where I have been living since 1996, children and youths live surrounded by many challenges. They experience social, economic and even educational problems. These problems include stigma and sexual and gender based violence, insufficient means of livelihood, unemployment and difficulties accessing higher education, and uncertainty of peace restoration in their homeland.
3. Can you tell us a bit more about RYENET program?
Standing for the rights of young refugees while helping them share their concerns with others globally is my top priority. In 2018, I started a special program in Nyarugusu camp called the Refugee Youth Empowerment Network (RYENET) because I was aware that there were a lot of children going through even worse problems. I was moved by the way children were raped and isolated. It reminded me my own past. So I pledged to run the RYENET program to give the refugee children and youths a space to tell their stories so the world can understand their concerns. As you may know, this program is still young, but is now growing rapidly.
Initially, the program was run as small club of more than 30 young refugees meeting each week to discuss about key issues that affect them at the camp. So, instead of being taught
what we should do and should not, the program put us at a position to look at our problems objectively by suggesting ways we can work together to solve them.
4. Why did you decide to start the RYENET program in the camp?
By initiating RYENET, my ultimate goal was to advance child rights as stated in The Tanzania Law of the Child Rights Act 2009.
According to the Child Act, it is against the law anyone to treat a child unfairly because of their age or gender. However, these laws have highly been violated in Nyarugusu camp. Refugee young, particularly girls, face huge problems of sexual violence, exploitation and lack of access to post-secondary education among others; these problems go on to create poverty and worsen the effect of sexual abuse and HIV/AIDs. Unemployment rates are extremely high as well. Seeing all those problems firsthand, I pledged myself to stand up for what is right. That is why I took my own decision to start RYENET, which seeks to take children and educate them.
5. What vision do you have in doing so?
I envision RYENET becoming a global youth hub which brings together like-minded groups of peace builders – such as schools, universities, research institutions and NGOs – who sit down with refugees to hear the tragic accounts of their life and journey for a policy solution at a global level. To me, this vision has become a lighthouse for the development of the RYENET program. I attempt to make my vision become true by sensitizing other youths globally to stand up and speak out as human rights activists. This vision helps me to be enthusiastic and ready to cope with the challenging environment of the camp while spreading the gospel of justice and peace to the whole refugee community. This dream, lastly, gives me strength in generating ideas, innovation, knowledge, and determination to fight against any kind of injustice and inequality addressed to refugee children. But, my dream would go astray without the stake of my fellow young refugees.