Ugandan-born trans woman wins Canadian award

Ugandan-born LGBTQI+ activist, refugee and trans woman Christopher Nkambwe is the winner of the prestigious Community One Foundation’s Steinert & Ferreiro Award for 2020.

From the African Human Rights Media Network

Christopher Nkambwe, the award recipient and LGBTIQ community members. (Eile Magazine photo)

By Joto La Jiwe

Christopher Nkambwe was honoured with the Steinert & Ferreiro Award recently during the 5th Annual Black and White Gala at Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce in Toronto.

Nkambwe, a journalism graduate and long time human rights defender, is the 15th recipient of the award, and $10,000 cash prize that celebrates unsung heroes for their contributions to the Canadian LGBTQIA2S+ community.

She thanked the LGBT community for their continued support.

While presenting the award to her, the Community One Foundation Co-Chair Andrew Mainprize said:

“Although a tough decision, with many qualified applicants this year, it’s clear that Christopher’s tireless efforts to help LGBTQIA2S+ refugees, despite facing so many of her own challenges, embodies everything that this award represents.”

People like Nkambwe inspire, promote growth and create change at the heart of the Canadian LGBTQIA2S+ community, he said.

“I scooped the award from over 65 applicants. To God be the glory” Nkambwe stated in a Facebook comment.

Ugandan activist Stella Nyanzi was among the first to congratulate Christopher.

“I want to congratulate one of the people I call ironic, inspiration, working machine, restless and all many things I can’t mention. Am not so surprised when you pulled this off because you are working hard and I can say you are worth it. Thank you for standing up for Ugandan-Canadian refugees,” she wrote.

Nkambwe’s journey as an activist began in Uganda, where she served as the executive director and founder of Service Workers in Group Foundation Uganda, along with volunteering at several other LGBTQI+ organizations where she advocated for better health and economic services for the community.

Nkambwe was also at the forefront of organizing underground Pride Uganda events from 2014 to 2016, highlighting issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, until the events were targeted for disruption and arrests by Ugandan police.

In 2019, Nkambwe was conducting voluntary peer outreach for HIV/AIDS testing and counselling, hepatitis B screening and condom distribution when Ugandan police threatened her with arrest and life imprisonment, which led her to seek asylum in Canada.

Upon arrival in Toronto, Nkambwe faced many challenges as a newcomer to the country, including finding employment, a lawyer and legal aid and even basic shelter. During her first few nights in Toronto, Nkambwe slept outside the urinals of the 109 Peter Street intake centre because of overcrowding in city shelters.

After successfully submitting her refugee claim, these very challenges served as a catalyst for her next advocacy efforts.

Christopher Nkambwe (right) and some of the members of the African Centre for Refugees, where she currently works.

After four months of enduring the difficult immigration process, Nkambwe sought free legal advice from The 519 legal clinic to register her own LGBTQIA2S+ charity organization, the African Centre For Refugees. Through this organization, Nkambwe is able to integrate African LGBTQ+ refugees to Canada through social work and community development. She has assisted over 300 individuals with employment, health and housing referrals, despite having to run her organization with her income from a part-time cleaning job and no external funding.

Nkambwe has continued this work during the Covid-19 pandemic, while also volunteering at Black Lives Matter and LGBTQIA2S+ organizations such as The 519. She has also recently been chosen to serve on the advisory committee of the Ontario Council for Agencies Serving Immigrants.

Joto La Jiwe, the author of this article, is a Ugandan correspondent for the African Human Rights Media Network and a member of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association. He writes under a pseudonym.