Ugandan refugee shares her story to help othersDec 04, 2022 11:15AM ● By Peri Kinder
A recent graduate from the University of Utah, Desange Kuenihira has written a memoir about her life as a Ugandan refugee and started the nonprofit organization unDEfeated to help youth and women in Uganda. (Photos courtesy of Marty Nicole)
By Peri Kinder | [email protected]
If someone had told 10-year-old Desange Kuenihira that she’d be living in America, graduating from college and starting a nonprofit to help people in Uganda, she would never have believed it. But now at 21, Kuenihira has accomplished all of that and is taking the next steps on her journey.
As a child, she fled her home while the civil war raged in the Congo. With her siblings and her aunt, Kuenihira survived deprivation and abuse at a refugee camp in Uganda before making her way to a foster home in the United States.
The Salt Lake County resident recently graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in health, society and policy, and a minor in business, and she just released her memoir “unDEfeated Woman.” Her nonprofit, unDEfeated, supports women and youth in Uganda.
“The first 10 years of my life really prepared me to live the life I’m living right now. I cry when I think about it,” Kuenihira said. “I’m on a different journey. I’m more grateful for this life and all the opportunities that have come my way. The first 10 years of my life really made me value the life I’m living today.”
Her story of resilience and courage reflects the hardships faced by women in Uganda who often experience sexual abuse, poverty and child marriage. Kuenihira hopes to break the cycle of poverty by creating opportunities for women to start and operate their own businesses.
unDEfeated provides education for underprivileged youth and women. Donations to the organization can send a person to high school or college. Over the summer, Kuenihira went to Uganda to meet with women in the community to create the most effective way to provide education, financial support and confidence.
“I was able to sit down with these women and some of them have lost hope. I want to give them their voice and help them find who they are,” she said. “Someone gave me a chance. I imagine, if I was still home, I would have been married and I’d probably have kids and that cycle would continue. I want to give them opportunities and fight for these girls and give them the love I never truly had for myself.”
Kuenihira plans to continue her education and will go back to school in the future, but right now she is spreading awareness through public speaking, her nonprofit platform and her memoir. She would like to collaborate with businesses that are invested in helping women gain a foothold in the corporate world.
She said if she can help women raise themselves to a higher standard of living, the next generation of daughters won’t have to endure what she went through. She wants to help them shift from trauma into successful and happy lives. For more information, visit Speakundefeated.org.
“People can empathize with me and people can relate to me and people can try to put themselves in my shoes, but it’s not the same thing,” she said. “I talk about finding myself and knowing who I am, not letting the world define me anymore. I’m taking that part of my journey to teens who are struggling to find their path. I teach them, how do you overcome something and still live your life and still see the beauty of the world and still accept yourself?”