World Refugee Day: Hope Away from Home part 1 – The story of Francois Bulambo

Hope is a state of mind that every person has experienced in their lives – some have always been hopeful, some have lost it along the way, and some fortunately were able to re-gain it even after facing the most horrible pathways a human being can cross. With the story of Francois Bulambo, we would like to celebrate his strength, courage and resilience when he was forced to flee his home fearing for his and his family’s lives, and we ask everyone to show empathy, solidarity and understanding to refugees.

How and why Francois Bulambo forcibly became a refugee

Francois Bulambo is 22 years old, and was born in Mwenga in South-Kivu then moved to Walikale Nyasi in Northern-Kivu Province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to live with his big family of two sisters and 3 brothers, his father working as a businessman selling gold, diamonds etc., and his mother as a merchant regularly travelling to Goma – a city at the border to Rwanda.

Bulambo’s traumatic experiences started in 2005 when his mother together with fellow traders got ambushed and shot to death by rebels, leaving a six-month year-old baby behind.

Unfortunately, Bulambo’s family had to face the next horror on 22 June 2010, when he, his twin brother and his father were peacefully watching TV, while the other brothers and sisters were – luckily – in boarding school:

“Around 7.40pm we heard the first gun shots in the neighbourhood and later the whole village was under massive attack. A few minutes passed by when our home door was kicked down and FARDC uniformed men, who spoke Lingala, broke into our home immediately threatening us and beating us up, especially my father. They robbed everything. My father was forced to undress, to remove his shoes, and give them the key to the safe, where all treasures incl. gold were kept. At the end, they told us they were sent to exterminate my whole family. I lost conscious, but I realised later when I woke up in the hospital that they showed no mercy to my twin brother Frank and my father. My other brothers and sisters were with me, when a doctor came in warning us that some of the men were looking for us.

Later that evening, friends from my late mother were visiting us in the hospital, warning us as well that people are looking for us in order to kill us. Hence, we escaped from the hospital that same night desperately to an unknow destination.” Francois Bulambo

Bulambo remembers that after two years of fleeing, running from one village to another to find a safe place, they were reaching the border of Uganda, crossed it on a truck transporting bananas and vegetables with the destination of Owino Market in Kampala. Afterwards, they were then taken to the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, where they are living until today.

Faced challenges in his new ‘home’

When Francois Bulambo finally found refuge, he still faced discrimination, exclusion and other difficult challenges:

“There were a lot of challenges, for example due to the fact that I’m from a French speaking country, I was not able to communicate with my fellows in the local languages like Luganda. Also, at first, my family and I lacked basic needs like food, and we got shelter in a very small house-tent which made it hard to sleep well or simply change clothes. Above this, I was not able to continue my studies as we were not able to earn money for the school fees, and had to endure discrimination in public places like sport facilities or markets, which is very common outside the camp.”

How he overcame those challenges and his advise to fellow refugees

“I started to learn English and Luganda, and now I’m capable of interpreting into the languages French, English, Kiswahili, Lingala, Kirega and a bit on Kinyarwanda. The challenge of discrimination I tried to solve by frequently meeting and interacting with nationals, through which I created friendships, hence reducing discrimination and exclusion. I have been promoting unity and inclusion in my community as well, for example by organising sport events, which I also did as one of the World Table Tennis Day 2023 Promoters bringing together people from various countries like Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo.

My advice to the fellow refugees who are facing similar challenges: work hard, keep pursuing your dreams and always act as a peace giver.”

Bulambo’s changing perspective

In September 2022, the ITTF Foundation Programmes team met Francois Bulambo in Kampala during one of the capacity building workshops hosted by Dream Building Fund powered by GSD project 'Table Tennis for Mental Health' implemented by ICODI (Integrated Community Development Initiative). He supported the team as an interpreter for his fellow workshop participants, which made it even clearer how much he had experienced, what mental scars he is carrying daily with him, and how much resilience and how many skills he had developed over time.

”I used to hate being described as a refugee because it brought me all evil that had happened to me and my family – every time, it felt like piercing an arrow in a wound. But now, after receiving psychological support from ICODI, I’m fine and proud of being a refugee because it is what it is and I can’t reverse the history. Now, I can see that a refugee is just human being and can do many good things to the universe and in the communities as well once they are given the chance.”

One simple thing every person can do

In order to actively support refugees, Bulambo states simply and clear: “Give everyone a chance, because there are so many refugees with diverse talents, skills and knowledge, but they don’t have the same starting point as people who were not forced to flee.”

Table tennis as a tool to support mental health and unity

Table tennis has played a vital role in Bulambo’s life. Through table tennis, he feels he is able to create unity and foster teamwork in the society. His level of devotion and determination has increased significantly.

”I have been exposed to the world but mental issues and stress no longer affect me, I’m always in company and no longer lonely – Table tennis has built me another and very big family.”

Francois Bulambo recognises the immense advantages of sports, particularly table tennis, in promoting physical and mental well-being and fostering social inclusion. That is why he strongly encourages his fellow refugees to engage in and benefit from this sport.

Bulambo’s hopes and dreams away from home

”I would like to share my knowledge and experiences in table tennis with other refugees and nationals, too, who are looking to use table tennis as a tool to improve lives. One day, I would love to start a youth centre, where I will be teaching them to play and how to use table tennis as a tool for development. My dream is to have an inclusive centre that will take care of refugees, that supports their talent, that helps them face and deal with their experiences, that increases their quality of life, and that helps them realise that everything is possible.

I have started working on the papers and hopefully very soon I will make some money to cover the rent and acquire tables and equipment, and have all the papers ready to launch the centre.”


Thank you so much, Francois Bulambo, for sharing your incredible story with us. We are truly grateful and deeply inspired by you here at the ITTF Foundation. We genuinely hope that all your hopes and dreams come true. Your story has the power to inspire more people, no matter their background, because hope is what can unite us.

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