Resilient. Confident. Powerful. Meet Florance, and it won’t take long for you to see each of these qualities reflected in her.

It’s in her easy smile and the warm embrace of her children. In her pride, as she gives a tour of her garden. In her vulnerability, as she shares some of the darkest moments of her life.

Over the last eight years, Florance experienced more than most people do in a lifetime. She felt heart-wrenching loss and agonizing fear. She saw her community torn apart and her home destroyed. Out of the ashes, she created a new life and a family with three beautiful children. Throughout those valleys of pain and mountains of joy, she saw miraculous healing and experienced renewed purpose.

Florance isn’t just a survivor. She’s a woman who turned her pain into power. She transformed traumatic events into healing for her entire community. This is her story.

Florance and her husband, Fitimukiza, are from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There, they had a happy and full life and lived close to family. They had access to education and good food. Home was a large piece of land and a beautiful house. In the DRC, they joyfully welcomed their first child, Justine.

But then, in 2014, war came. Violence robbed them of peace and stability. It took their home, community, and even family members from them. “There were a lot of bullets,” Florance explains. “Others were cut with swords. There were a lot of deaths among both locals and the rebels.”

War left them with a terrible choice: stay in their home country and risk death or leave everything behind to save their lives. They decided to take their two-year-old son, Justine, and flee to Uganda. With a solemn expression, Florance describes how she carried Justine on her back for two days. They didn’t have food or water until they reached the border.

Florance looks off in the distance in her backyard.
Florance and her family left behind everything to escape violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Now, they are rebuilding their lives in a refugee settlement in Uganda.

“Reaching Uganda, I was still traumatized because I had lost my father in the conflict,” she says. “Everybody was running for their lives; we didn’t have enough time to find my mother.”

Although she later found her mother, Florance still doesn’t know whether her siblings survived or crossed the border like she did.

Upon reaching the reception center in Uganda, they were given items like a hoe, a tarp, food, and saucepans. They received a piece of land where they could build a home. Florance describes how despite the relief of being safe from bullets, she was grieving the life and the family she had lost.

“When we reached here, it was a forest,” she explains. “It was a lonely place, an empty land. We didn’t have friends; we didn’t know each other.”

Life as a refugee

Seeing the sprawling settlement now, it’s hard to imagine it as an uninhabited forest. Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement is home to more than 135,000 refugees and grows larger every day. Conflict in the neighboring DRC continues to force thousands of people to flee to Uganda. Eighty percent of the population are women and children.

Houses made from mud sit in front of a hill in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement.
Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement is home to more than 135,000 refugees. Many, like Florance and her family, come from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

My colleagues and I are visiting Rwamwanja to meet Florance and document Medical Teams’ work in the settlement. As we drive the meandering red dirt roads to Florance’s home, we get a sense of the settlement at large. Houses are made of mud and wood and sit within feet of each other. Palm trees line the roadside. We pass by men, women, and children going about their daily lives. Some carry baskets of produce to sell. Others carry construction materials or stand in circles talking with neighbors.

After about ten minutes of driving, we arrive at Florance and Fitimukiza’s home. This is where they’ve spent the last eight years rebuilding their life. On their plot of land are several tidy buildings and a thriving garden, with a multi-room structure where they sleep. A separate building houses the cooking area. There’s an enclosed pen for the goats and a storeroom for food. Florance and Fitimukiza constructed each of these buildings by hand with materials gathered from the land.

Home: A source of pride

Behind these structures is the garden. It serves as a visual representation of Florance’s hard work and dedication. Here, she grows papaya and cassava, a root vegetable. Half she feeds to her family, and the other half she sells for profit. Beyond the crops, in the distance, are rolling green hills dotted with other homes.

Florance picks cassava leaves in her backyard.
Florance picks cassava leaves in her backyard. Later, she will crush them up and cook them for dinner with other vegetables.

Outside, there are the joyful noises of children playing across the road and the muted sounds of chickens clucking in the distance. The air is filled with the scent of fresh rain and smoke from fires being stoked for cooking. We tell Florance that her home is beautiful. At first, she doesn’t believe us, but we insist our sentiment is genuine. Besides the natural beauty of the land, there is a sense of stability, comfort and love in the home — an ambiance that seems to emanate from Florance herself.

Florance stands with her arms around her two young sons and laughs.
Florance and her two sons, Justine and Thiery. Florance’s love for her children and the joy she finds in them was evident from the first moment we met her.

Not long after meeting Florance, it’s clear to us that she’s a powerful woman. We can tell by the way she carries herself with confidence and grace. Her boundaries around sharing her story are clear. She’s accommodating to our group but forthright with her needs.

We also get a glimpse into her intelligence and wit. Insisting she doesn’t speak much English, we communicate mostly through a translator. At one point, after getting asked a question, she turns to the translator and says, “Can you translate that please?” — in English. It turns out Florance speaks five languages and is much more proficient than she gives herself credit for.

A mother in pain

Since moving to Uganda, Florance and Fitimukiza welcomed two more sons, Thiery and Joseline. Thiery is more reserved, while Joseline is playful and curious. Laughing with her arms around her boys, Florance seems to delight in her children. The family of five is full of affection toward each other.

Seeing the serenity and joy in Florance’s family now, it’s hard to imagine the terror they experienced only a few months prior. After eight years of relative stability, Florance’s family was almost torn apart again. This time, it was by a life-threatening illness.

As Florance tells the story, Thiery sits on her lap. She wraps her arms protectively around him. There is a gentle, warm breeze and colorful fabric flutters in the doorway to their home. The peaceful scene is starkly different from the one she describes from months earlier.

Thiery stands next to a wall outside his home.
Seven-year-old Thiery became critically ill with a combination of malaria, malnutrition, and tuberculosis.

It was 1 a.m. when Florance realized Thiery’s condition was critical. His body was wracked by a cough and his skin was hot to the touch. For weeks, he’d had no appetite, so his skin was stretched thin over his bones. His eyes and skin had turned yellow. Desperate for help, Florance called a taxi to take Thiery to the Medical Teams International clinic.

As they made their way to the clinic, Florance’s anxious thoughts spiraled into imagining the worst-case scenario.

“After losing my dad, now I’m going to lose my son?” she thought. “I asked myself, ‘If my child dies, how will my life be?’”

Arriving at the clinic, they were greeted by a Medical Teams nurse named Peace. “She was in pain like any mother when her child is sick,” Peace recalls. “She thought he wasn’t going to survive.”

A medical facility with people sitting and standing in front of it.
One of Medical Teams’ health facilities in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement. Thiery received care at the pediatric unit across the courtyard.

Nurse Peace got to work quickly by running a panel of tests. Using a rapid malaria test, she soon discovered that Thiery was fighting a severe case of malaria. She immediately started him on IV fluids, antibiotics, and malaria medication. From there, all Florance could do was wait and pray that the medicine would begin to work.

A woman smiles, standing in front of a building.
On the night Thiery came to the Medical Teams clinic, Nurse Peace was there to immediately begin life-saving treatment.
A health worker looks into a microscope in a lab.
A Medical Teams laboratory staff member looks for malaria parasites by examining a blood sample from a patient.
Boxes of malaria medicine sit on a shelf.
Medical Teams keeps shelves stocked with medication to treat malaria so health workers can treat critically ill patients like Thiery.

And by the grace of God, it did. Florance’s prayers were answered, and Thiery survived the night.

A miraculous recovery

After a few days, Florance saw Thiery turn a corner.

“I began to feel a lot of joy,” she says. “My heart was filled with praises, ‘Thanks be to God. My child is improving.’”

At last, Thiery was well enough to go home.

A week later, Thiery returned to the clinic for a check-up. While he had recovered from malaria, he still had a persistent cough and was malnourished. Health workers administered another lab test that came back positive for tuberculosis. Thiery’s malnutrition became an even greater concern because of this diagnosis. A Medical Teams doctor prescribed him antibiotics and enrolled him in the nutrition program.

On this program, Thiery needed regular check-ups and extra nutrition for the next several months. Every two weeks, Florance would collect “Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food” — an energy-dense, micronutrient paste for Thiery. It was at this time that Florance and Thiery met Ahab, a nutritionist working for Medical Teams. Not only would he help Thiery recover, but he would also become a trusted friend to the family.

Boxes of emergency supplemental food stacked in a storage room.
Medical Teams distributes emergency nutrition like Plumpy’Nut, a peanut-based paste, to children who are severely malnourished like Thiery.

Ahab: Nutritionist and friend

As a nutritionist, Ahab’s days are varied and busy. In one moment, he’s working at a nutrition outpost, training families on good nutrition and handing out sacks of a corn-soy blend. At another, he’s doing home visits or working in the inpatient clinic with women and children who are severely malnourished.

Ahab smiles at the camera.
Ahab, a Medical Teams nutritionist, was integral in Thiery’s recovery. Now, he works closely with Florance to share messages about nutrition with the rest of the community.

Ahab has a heart for people like Florance who are displaced. He wants the world to know the status of “refugees” does not define who they are. At one point, as we are walking through Florance’s garden, he turns to me and passionately expresses this feeling.

“They are displaced, but they are beautiful people with beautiful souls,” he says.

It’s this belief that has Ahab going the extra mile to care for patients like Thiery and mothers like Florance.

For months, Ahab visited Thiery. On each visit, he got to know Florance and the rest of her family. He checked on Thiery’s health and ensured he was gaining weight. While Thiery’s recovery was a priority, Ahab also spent time teaching Florance how to prevent malnutrition in the future. As a prevention measure, he encouraged her to grow more vegetables and taught her how to prepare locally available foods. He described how to combine certain foods to create a complete diet.

Ahab points to mounds of dirt with swiss chard growing.
Ahab shows us his demonstration garden where he’s able to teach mothers how to grow different foods.

Ahab empowered Florance with the knowledge she needed to keep her family healthy. His visits are a source of comfort to Florance.

“When [Medical Teams] visits me, I feel happy,” Florance says. “I feel encouraged. I feel stronger. They empowered me. They gave me hope. They restored my strength because I had a feeling that my child wouldn’t make it.”

“Mama Thiery”

Not surprisingly, Florance was an enthusiastic student. Taking Ahab’s advice to heart, she began to grow maize, soy, and sorghum behind her home. Once Thiery could go back to school, she packed nutritious lunches for him. Every day, he brought things like porridge made of soy, maize, millet, potatoes, cabbage, and tomatoes to class.

Soon, Florance’s garden and Thiery’s remarkable recovery became the talk of the community. Neighbors started visiting, asking Florance for advice. She even gained a new nickname: Mama Thiery.

Florance stands among her crops in her backyard.
Florance stands proudly among her crops in her backyard.
Florance shows bowls of various grains.
Florance shows the various grains that she is able to grow in her garden. She sells half of what she produces and feeds her family with the other half.
Florance shucks corn inside her home.
Florance shucks corn inside her home.

“I feel so good at the time when I’m sharing my knowledge with them,” she explains. “I show them how to prepare these various porridges. When I’m teaching them, I feel so empowered. I made friends who visit me, who share about our families. And in the rainy season, I have plenty of vegetables. They come to see my garden. Some of them, I give them some of my vegetables, and they come and see what I’m doing. They also go and do it, and they feel happy.”

Now, Florance has the community that she was missing eight years ago.

Empowered to lead

One woman Florance recently helped was a grandmother named Baseme. Baseme’s grandchildren were struggling with their health and nutrition. Florance offered to help and began visiting Baseme regularly. She encouraged Baseme to grow vegetables that would support her grandchildren’s health. She also explained where Baseme could take her grandchildren if they were sick. “Florance gave me the confidence to seek health services in case of any change in my grandchildren’s conditions, but also to grow some vegetables to supplement their meals,” Baseme says.

For Florance, teaching her neighbors how to keep their families healthy was just the beginning. Determined to do even more, Florance began to lead cooking demonstrations with Ahab. Every Wednesday, she stands in front of a group of women and explains how to source and prepare nutritious foods.

Florance stands in front of a group of women and shows fruits and vegetables.
Florance explains to mothers from the community how to choose and cook foods for a nutritious diet.
A table with produce.
Florance sets out an array of fresh fruit and vegetables at her cooking demonstration.

Depending on the week, her demonstrations change. The week we visited, she explains things like how to cut meat into small pieces for babies and how to mix foods to get a balanced diet.

With a playful smile, she holds up fish, saying, “The ones who are looking at you have a lot of protein!”

At the end of the demonstration, she helps hand out fresh fruits and vegetables to the participants.

With health comes opportunity

Florance is proud of her work in the community and proud of her son. “Thiery is strong and is a courageous man,” she says. “He likes to go to school. He likes to play with his friends.”

On the morning we’re there, she prepares Thiery’s backpack for school. Watching Florance, I’m reminded of my own seven-year-old son and our morning routine of packing his backpack and walking to the bus stop. While my son rides a bus to school for ten minutes, Thiery walks an hour each way.

Florance hands a lunch pail to Thiery in front of their home.
Florance packs Thiery a healthy lunch of porridge made with soy, maize, millet, potatoes, cabbage, and tomatoes.
Thiery and Justine walk down a palm-tree-lined path holding hands.
Thiery and his best friend, Juste, walk an hour to school by using footpaths that cut through the settlement.

Arriving at Nteziryayo Primary School, we hear the excited sounds of children — 2,000 to be exact — as they run through the courtyard before class. Soon we’re surrounded as kids jockey to get close to the mzungus — a term used to refer to “white people” — and our strange camera equipment. When a teacher announces the start of class, they run in every direction, dispersing to their classrooms.

Later, in Thiery’s classroom, a teacher explains math equations. Children sit on wooden benches in rows. Their voices ring out in unison, answering questions from the teacher. When students go up to write on the chalkboard, their classmates clap with encouragement.

Thiery raises his hand in a classroom surrounded by other kids.
Thiery loves going to school and was able to return after recovering from malaria, malnutrition, and tuberculosis.

After the lesson, the teacher facilitates a soccer game with the children. Squealing with joy, they chase after the ball. At that moment, I consider the resilience of these children. They and their families experienced tragic loss, yet they still find reasons for joy and hope. The principal of the school, Inocent, sees this hope too.

“They lost their homes, but we believe they have not lost their future. If they are given primary education, you never know what they might become tomorrow,” Inocent says.

Thiery plays soccer with several kids in a field.
At recess, Thiery likes to play soccer with classmates in the field next door to their school.

Hope for the future

Back at home after school, Thiery and his best friend, Juste, help with household chores. Together, they put the goats out to pasture and help Florance prepare dinner. Florance walks through her garden, pulling off cassava leaves and collecting them in her basket.

Thiery herds goats.
Thiery takes his family’s goats out to pasture after school.

With Florance’s instruction, Juste uses a mortar and pestle to mash the leaves into a paste. Next, Florance adds tomato, oil, and salt. Crouching over a pile of wood in her kitchen, Florance lights the logs and kindles a fire by blowing on it gently. Once the embers are glowing, she sets a pot with the cassava mixture on top to warm. Later, she spoons this nutritious meal into bowls for her husband and children.

After a few days in the settlement, it’s clear to me that life here isn’t easy. But it’s also clear that there are “helpers” everywhere. Skilled nurses like Peace. Passionate nutritionists like Ahab. Dedicated educators like Inocent. And powerful women like Florance. Because of them, lives are being changed and saved.

“God being my guide, I wish to see Thiery study,” Florance says. “I wish Thiery to be a medical officer. God willing, we hope that our children will all study. And after studies, they get jobs, and they’re able to help others the way we were helped. We hope that they live a better life than their parents.”

In Florance’s family and the other incredible stories in this settlement, one thing is made apparent. There is hope for the future. Hope for children like Thiery.

Florance and Fitimukiza and their three young children sit together in their garden.
Florance and Fitimukiza have built a new life and grown their family in Uganda.

Later, as we watch Florance tend to her crops, another Medical Teams staff member named Racheal comments, “If she continues like this, she is destined for greatness.”

After spending just a couple of days with Florance — a woman who speaks five languages, who works tirelessly for her community and family, who turned her pain into power — it’s easy to believe Florance is destined for greatness.

Give a gift to deliver life-saving medical care to a child like Thiery today.



Lindsay Sullivan
Brand and Content Strategist