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Masindi Residents Enjoy Contributions Made by Polish Refugees

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Built between1943 and 1945 by the Polish refugees, the church still serves the local community. The church is said to have been renovated by Polish students in 2010. There are 44 graves of polish refugees who died of different ailments in the graveyard near the church compound.
St Mary Nyabyeya Catholic Church that was constructed and left behind by the polish refugees.Photo by Emmanuel Okello.

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Uganda hosted close to 7,000 Polish refugees, mainly women and children between l942 and 1944. The British protectorate government settled the polish refugees in Nyabyeya in Nyabyeya parish Budongo sub-county in Masindi District and Koja (Mpunge) in Mukono District.  

Those who made homes near Masindi travelled overland from Mombasa to Lake Victoria, across the lake to Jinja and then on barges up the Nile to Masindi Port and finally overland to Nyabyeya.  To date in Nyabyeya village, especially at Nyabyeya forestry college institute, many of the structures built by the polish refugees are still evident.  

Some of the structures are the twin houses also known as labour camps that used to accommodate the polish refugee widows. There are also many water sources constructed by the Polish refugees that still serve the community to date. One structure that stood the test of the time is the former house for the polish refugee camp commandant found within Nyabyeya forestry college.  

The house currently hosts the college Principal. According to residents in the area, the strongest legacy the polish refugees left behind was the strong catholic faith. The refugees built the only improbable church of Our Lady Queen of Poland Catholic Church that has since been renamed St. Mary Nyabyeya catholic church and seats a few meters from Nyabyeya forestry college.  

Built between1943 and 1945 by the Polish refugees, the church still serves the local community. The church is said to have been renovated by Polish students in 2010. There are 44 graves of polish refugees who died of different ailments in the graveyard near the church compound.  

Uganda Radio Network visited Nyabyeya village in Masindi where the polish refugees settled and caught up with some residents. Richard Kisekya, the Principal Nyabyeya Forestry College explains that the Polish refugees are still remembered by the community around for their great contributions.

He said that the labour camp also known as the twin houses left behind by the polish refugees accommodates lower cadre workers of the institute including guards, cleaners and National Forestry Authority-NFA staff from Budongo sector among others.      

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Kisakye further revealed that the families of the Polish refugees have maintained a strong bond with the community around Nyabyeya. He revealed that the descendants of the Polish refugees visit where their ancestors lived and sleep in guest houses within Nyabyeya hence leaving behind money for the local community.      

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Ceasar Obote, 80, was a young boy when the polish refugees arrived in their area. He recalls that the polish refugees would signal while interacting with the local community since no one could understand their language.

According to Obote, the local community benefited a lot from the refugees by selling them fruits and vegetables that boosted household income in the area. He says the polish refugees left behind a strong legacy by constructing some boreholes and the church that are still being used by the local community around.    

 

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Francis Jawiambe, a choir member of St. Mary Nyabyeya catholic church that was constructed by the polish refugees explained that the church has played a pivotal role in the community by strengthening their faith.

He says the church and the graveyard have become tourist attractions to many people especially those from Poland who frequently visit the area. 

Sanny Tulinawe also a resident explains that the generous contributions made by the polish refugees can not be forgotten by the people of Nyabyeya especially the boreholes they constructed that up to now help people to access clean drinking water.

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Beatrice Nakanyeka, another resident noted that the polish refugee’s heritage sites in the area attract a lot of tourists.

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How the Polish Refugees ended up in Uganda


In 1940 up to a million Polish nationals were rounded up and exiled when Germany and the Soviet Union annexed large parts of Poland. 

Uganda offered to host over 7,000 Polish refugees mainly women and children, who were being persecuted by the Soviets and the Nazi Germany sanctuary after getting amnesty from forced labour camps deep in Siberia.