On the evening of November 5, 2020, Ugandan-born LGBTQIA2S+ activist, refugee, and trans woman, Christopher Nkambwe (pronouns: she/her) was honoured with Community One Foundation’s Steinert & Ferreiro Award, a commemorative award and $10,000 cash prize, that celebrates unsung heroes for their contributions to the Canadian LGBTQIA2S+ community.
Christopher, a journalism graduate and long time human rights defender, is the 15th recipient of Community One Foundation’s Steinert & Ferreiro Award, superceding 2019 award recipient, Kimahli Powell, Executive Director of the Canadian non-profit organisation, Rainbow Railroad.
Christopher Nkambwe’s activism journey 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 LGBTQIA2S+ organisations, advocating for better health and economic services for the community.
Christopher was also at the forefront of organising underground Pride Uganda events from 2014 to 2016, to highlight issues affecting the LGBTQIA2S+ community, before the event was bombarded by Uganda police – resulting in many being arrested for promoting homosexuality, an act that is against the law and culture in Uganda.
In 2019, Christopher was conducting voluntary peer outreach for HIV/AIDS testing and counselling, along with Hepatitis B screening and condom distribution, when Ugandan police raided, attacked and threatened her with life imprisonment, which led her to seek asylum in Canada.
Upon arrival in Canada, Christopher began her journey as a refugee claimant in Toronto. She was presented many challenges as a newcomer to the country; including finding employment, a lawyer and legal aid, and even acquiring basic shelter. During her first few nights in Toronto, Christopher was forced to sleep outside the urinals of the 109 Peter Street intake centre, because of overcrowding in city shelters.
After successfully submitting her refugee claim, it was these very challenges that ended up being the catalyst for Christopher’s next advocacy efforts.
After four months of enduring the difficult immigration process, and acquiring her refugee protection documents, Christopher sought free legal advice from The 519 legal clinic to register her LGBTQIA2S+ charity organisation, The African Centre For Refugees in Ontario Canada.
Through this organisation, Christopher is able to integrate African LGBTQIA2S+ refugees to Canada through extensive social work and community development. She has been able to assist over 300 individuals with employment, health and housing referrals, despite having to run her organisation with her part-time job cleaning salary, and no external funding.
Christopher is continuing her important work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, along with volunteering at several LGBTQIA2S+ organisations, including The 519 and Black Lives Matter. She has also recently been chosen by The Ontario Council for Agencies Serving Immigrants to be a part of their advisory committee. Currently, The African Centre For Refugees in Ontario Canada is seeking out opportunities to acquire laptops for their staff, and PPE equipment for over 300 refugees.
“It is with great honour that we are able to present Christopher Nkambwe with this year’s Steinert and Ferreiro Award,” says Community One Foundation Co-Chair Andrew Mainprize.
“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. It is people like Christopher who continue to inspire, promote growth and create change at the heart of the Canadian LGBTQIA2S+ community.”
Established in 1980 as the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal, Community One Foundation provides grants to LGBTTIQQ2S community projects in Greater Toronto Area, including Durham, Halton, Peel and York Regions, focusing on the areas of arts and culture, health and social services, and research and education. The Foundation also promotes community philanthropy through strategic partnerships, such as the Bill 7 Award and the LGBT Giving Network.