• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Sisters with a Message: Our music will go where our feet can't reach

News Stories, 25 August 2014

© CourtesyofThebahatizz
The four Bahati sisters, who fled to Uganda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo more than a decade ago. Today, they live in Canada and have formed a popular hip hop band called Thebahatizz. From left to right the sisters are: Rachel, Francine, Odette, Sylvie.

OTTAWA, Canada, August 25 (UNHCR) As refugees in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, the four Bahati sisters released a debut single entitled "Don't Give Up." It's a message they have long embraced and which has helped them survive the tough times and make a go of things since being resettled in Canada two years ago.

Better known as "Thebahatizz," Sylvie, aged 26, Rachel, 25, Francine, 23, and 21-year-old Odette have been building a healthy following and winning accolades and awards for their energetic brand of hip hop that draws on their experiences as Congolese refugees and acts as a form of therapy. They are also using their fame to highlight the issue of sexual violence, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Originally from Kiliba, a town in DRC's South Kivu province, the Bahati family fled to Uganda in 2002 to escape the debilitating war. In a series of e-mail exchanges with UNHCR from their home in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, the sisters told of the tough times they had endured as urban refugees.

"Life was not easy in Uganda, but we found comfort in music. Most days, we went to sleep on empty stomachs. We sang to feel a bit good," Rachel explained, while Odette noted that their living conditions were very basic. "There was no privacy; we were grown up girls already. We didn't have a mattress to sleep on and at night, we used to borrow clothes from the neighbours to lay our heads on," she added.

Music provided an escape and the sisters, who had always liked singing, formed Thebahatizz in Kampala and released their first single, "Don't Give Up," in 2010. But while it is a big part of their lives, Sylvie said that getting an education had been the most important thing for the girls since being resettled in Canada.

"Our biggest accomplishment so far in Canada, despite the Winnipeg cold, is to be able to go to school," she said, proudly adding: "We all graduated last June, after being in Canada for only 18 months." They all graduated with a high school diploma after studying as adults.

Now the girls are using their voices and growing reach to join a global campaign to end rape and other sexual violence in combat, especially against women, girls and boys in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, many of whom are forcibly displaced people.

To this end they recently launched their own campaign, "That Could Be Me," and have released two humanitarian music videos. "We chose this name because we want the world to put itself in the shoes of those women who are being sexually abused or the children who cannot go to school because of war," said Odette. The girls have been seeking support from individuals, corporations and businesses.

Thebahatizz are currently planning a tour in North America and Africa, looking for sponsors and venues. But music is not the only thing that keeps the four sisters busy. They are all dreaming to go to university next year.

While there is much to say about Thebahatizz, including their courage and determination to succeed in life and make progress in their musical career, there is one thing that remains close to their hearts. "We believe where our feet cannot reach, our music will," concluded Francine.

By Lauren Stanley and Gisele Nyembwe in Ottawa, Canada

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

A Time Between: Moving on from Internal Displacement in Uganda

This document examines the situation of IDPs in Acholiland in northern Uganda, through the stories of individuals who have lived through conflict and displacement.

DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

Donate to this crisis

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

Over the past month, almost 6,300 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left the Batalimo camp in the troubled Central African Republic and returned voluntarily to their homes in Equateur province. Their decision to go back is a further sign of the gravity of the situation in Central African Republic, where escalated violence since December has left hundreds of thousands internally displaced and forced almost 350,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The refugees at Batalimo were among some 20,000 Congolese who had fled to the Central African Republic to escape inter-ethnic conflict back home. The return operation from Batalimo had been postponed several times for security and logistical reasons, but on April 10 the first convoy headed across the Oubangui River. The last arrived in the DRC on May 10. The UN refugee agency organized transportation of the refugees from Batalimo to the Central African Republic riverside town of Zinga, where they boarded boats for the crossing to Batanga or Libenge in Equateur province. In Batanga, the returnees were registered, provided with documentation and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate. They were then transported to their villages, where they will be monitored. Photographer Leonora Baumann followed one group back to the DRC.

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

A Refugee Settlement Rises Again in Northern Uganda

Fighting in South Sudan between government troops and rival forces since December has displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom have sought shelter at temporary transit and reception centres just inside northern Uganda. The UN refugee agency has since early January reopened three former refugee settlements and moved an estimated 50,000 to these sites deeper inside Uganda, where it is easier to provide them with protection and assistance. After being taken by truck to one such settlement, Nyumanzi I, lying some 30 kilometres from the border, the new arrivals are given relief items such as food, blankets, mats and kitchenware as well as a plot of land from the government on which to build a shelter. The settlement has been filling up quickly. UNHCR and partners have been working around the clock to build roads, install water distribution networks and provide access to health care. By early February, homes and small shops had sprung up across the settlement as the South Sudanese got on with their lives while closely monitoring the situation back home in the hope of one day returning.

A Refugee Settlement Rises Again in Northern Uganda

Matiop's First Days as a Refugee in Uganda

After fighting engulfed his hometown of Bor in South Sudan last December, Matiop Atem Angang fled with his extended family of 15 - including his 95-year-old mother, his six children and his sister's family. They left the capital of Jonglei state, one of the areas worst affected by the violence of the last two months. A one-week journey by boat and truck brought them to safety in neighbouring Uganda.

At the border, Matiop's large family was taken to a UNHCR-run transit centre, Dzaipi, in the northern district of Adjumani. But with thousands of South Sudanese refugees arriving every day, the facility quickly became overcrowded. By mid-February, the UN refugee agency had managed to transfer refugees to their own plots of land where they will be able to live until it is safe for them to go home. Uganda is one of very few countries that allow refugees to live like local citizens. These photos follow Matiop through the process of registering as a refugee in Uganda - an experience he shares with some 70,000 of his compatriots.

Matiop's First Days as a Refugee in Uganda

Uganda: Unique Approach For South SudanesePlay video

Uganda: Unique Approach For South Sudanese

Uganda has taken in thousands of South Sudanese refugees fleeing conflict. The government is helping the new arrivals by giving them land on which to build a shelter.
Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate
Play video

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

The 2013 winner of UNHCR`s Nansen Refugee Award is Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of Democratic Republic of the Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She has helped over 2000 displaced women and girls who have suffered the most awful kidnapping and abuse, to pick up the pieces of their lives and become re-accepted by their communities.
Uganda: New Camp, New ArrivalsPlay video

Uganda: New Camp, New Arrivals

Recent fighting in eastern Congo has seen thousands of civilians flee to a new camp, Bubukwanga, in neighboring Uganda.