Mayor Nancy Vaughan missed the first City Council meeting of the year, which is unusual, but she had a pretty good excuse.

Vaughan had traveled with a group from Greensboro to Uganda, more specifically to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement Center near the city of Hoima, and didn’t quite make it back in time for the meeting. She said they flew from Greensboro to JFK International Airport in New York, from there to Nairobi, then to Entebbe, where they took a van to Hoima, which is about 90 minutes by van from the Kyangwali refugee camp.

The group of about 10 were accompanying Mugabo Emmanuel, who is the father of the five children who were tragically killed in a fire in their apartment on Summit Avenue in May 2018.

Emmanuel wanted to return to the refugee camp where he lived for 20 years and where all but one of his five children were born, in order to set up an educational scholarship fund for children at the camp.

Vaughan said that the public school provided by the camp has classes of over 300 students. She said that private schooling in smaller classes was available, but parents had to be able to pay for it. Emmanuel had started raising money for the scholarship fund and needed to go back to the refugee camp to set up the process.

Vaughan said most of the group went for educational purposes. She said, “I went over there, really, to see what the refugee camp was like. I really wanted to see the circumstances they live in. Now I better understand why refugees put up with so much of what they have to put up with when they arrive. And I now have a better of idea of what we need to do to be a truly welcoming city.”

Vaughan said that about 130,000 refugees live in the camp and that Emanuel arrived when he was 8 years old with the rest of his third grade class. His teacher had seen rebels coming to their village in the Congo and taken the whole class out into the bush to get away. It took them two months to get to the refugee camp and not all of the class made it.

Vaughan said one of the things that struck her about the refugee camp was that the people living there were really people without a country. Emmanuel is originally from the Congo but spent most of his life at the camp in Uganda. When he was told he and his family would be resettled in Greensboro, North Carolina, he had no idea where it was.

Vaughan said one of the things she took away from the trip was that Greensboro had to do more for the refugees when they arrive because so many have lived in such harsh conditions and have little knowledge of life in America.

She said it was amazing to her to see the children in the camp with no toys. She said, “They make their own toys out of sticks and rocks, but they seemed to be really happy and enjoying the games they made up.”

Vaughan said that they did take a little time to be tourists and hiked up to Murchison Falls, went on a half day safari and took a trip down the Nile.

She said, “It’s a trip that I never in my life thought I would take and I’m really glad I did it.”

She added that after seeing the camp and the conditions that people have to live in, “I’m not to complain about anything in my life, ever again.”

Vaughan, being an elected official noted, “The City of Greensboro did not pay for my trip.”