Profile : We wore food sacks for school uniforms at the camps – Alphonse B. Umullisa

Life gives us lemons, but what matters is how we make the lemonade. Alphonse B.Umullisa, Director of the Institute of National Museums Rwanda, gives an ordeal of his life in a refugee camp.
Alphonse B.Umulisa
Alphonse B.Umulisa

Life gives us lemons, but what matters is how we make the lemonade.

Alphonse B.Umullisa, Director of the Institute of National Museums Rwanda, gives an ordeal of his life in a refugee camp.

The 46-year-old Umullisa was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) in an area known as Bambo.

“My father died before I was born and my mother died when I was only five years old. I moved from DR Congo with distant relatives, to Kinyara refugee camp in Uganda. The camp was located in Bunyoro District,” he said.

Umullisa says life in Kinyara refugee camp was unbearable since the area was infested with tsetse flies.

“Oh my God, people died in big numbers, in fact they would bury like 20 children in a hole. It’s like they had sent us to that place to die. But when the place was rehabilitated, they moved us to Kyangwali refugee camp.”

“The camp was deep in the forest and the inhabitants where carnivores, they always unburied the corpses and ate them. The experience was horrific; it was the worst place to stay.”

“My education background goes way back from studying under a tree. We had food sacks for school uniforms. Luckily I left the camp and joined a catholic missionary, where Reverend Fleskens Bart sponsored my education and that of other children in the camp,” he explained.

Umullisa attended Kinakitaka Primary School where pupils studied under a tree. The school gradually developed and they moved to thatched classrooms and finally, modernized classes. He later joined Duhaga Secondary School in Hoima District for his O’ Level education before pursuing further studies at Uganda College of Commerce (UCC) Nakawa for a Diploma in Business Studies.

After graduating, Umullisa worked for a Joint Medical missionary organization for five years then moved to United Kingdom in December 1987.

“While in England, I worked with Brent Council for two years and pursued a course in Psychology and Social administration at Oxford University, Plater College. I went to Sussex University and attained a Bachelors Degree in Social Anthropology before joining University of London where I pursed a Master in Culture heritage in Museums and worked at the Museum of London,” he explained.

That was not all. Umullisa worked for the British Refugee Council for a period of nine years as a Project Coordinator and while at the Council he dealt with immigration cases.
He supports the idea of people returning to their homeland. Umullisa returned to Rwanda in 2010 and worked with Immigration before being appointed the Director of Institute of National Museums.

He said: “I think people lack knowledge of their homeland. In the diaspora people tend to look at things that are not working than the successes but this all depends on individuals.”

“It is true that East or West home is best, it’s a statement I learnt while at secondary school. I never had joy in my life until I returned to Rwanda. This is my home because my heart is at peace here.”

He married in 1988 and was blessed with two daughters and two sons.

According his 20-year-old son, Christopher Jonah Umullisa, Umullisa is ambitious and very hardworking.
Christopher said: “I’m morally upright and he has given us the best in life. I’m currently pursuing a Bachelors Degree in International History and Politics at the University of West London. After graduating, I plan to come and work here.”

Jackline Kanda, who works with Umullisa said his relationship at work with staff members is progressive.

“He is open-minded and we have become a better team thanks to him,” Kanda said.