Empowered to start anew: Ella’s story

Did you know that 80% of refugees are women and children?

In 1972, one of our clients, Ella, first arrived in Tanzania as a young Burundian refugee. She was not alone. Faced with violence and ethnic conflict at every turn, thousands of Burundians fled their homes and sought refuge in neighboring Tanzania.

When refugee women arrive in a new country, they need safe spaces to heal and recover in order to build a better future for themselves. They may require support in discussing issues relevant to their experiences, access to reproductive health or psychosocial support for survivors of sexual or gender-based violence.

At Asylum Access Tanzania (AATZ), Women’s Empowerment Group meetings are addressing this need and enabling refugee women to collectively process trauma and learn about their rights. The inaugural group meeting was held on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2012. At this first meeting, fourteen refugee women gathered to learn about micro-finance and financial empowerment opportunities.

Five years since the founding of the women’s empowerment groups, AATZ continues to help urban refugee women understand their rights and rebuild their lives in the capital city of Dar Es Salaam.

The day she visited, Ella found herself surrounded by the warmth and support of women who knew her hardships. A community doctor led a workshop and shared medical insights that Ella applied to her life. She learned to manage her well-being and followed through with the doctor’s referral to connect with a facilitator for her family’s healthcare needs. And with support from Asylum Access, Ella applied for a work permit, a document that would allow her to move freely and stay in the city rather than return to the refugee camp located in a remote region of Tanzania where there are few employment opportunities.

Not long after her first visit, Ella attended another Women’s Empower Group workshop on entrepreneurship. Though Ella had practical skills she didn’t have much formal understanding of business practice. However, through AATZ’s training, it was not long before she started her own business of selling cooked fish throughout her community.

Today, her fish-selling business has grown into a small but bustling restaurant that contributes to her community and the Tanzanian economy. Just as importantly, her success has been personally transformative as Ella can now think about tomorrow, not just today, and use her earnings to invest in her family’s future.

Ella is currently in the process of becoming a permanent resident in Tanzania, a place she proudly calls home. She now leads as an example to other women, inspiring them with confidence to rebuild their own lives, advocate for their rights, and put power back into their hands.


To protect the privacy of our refugee partners, photographs and names have been changed in this story.