Meet Tibo: a Former Refugee Turned Passionate Fundraiser!

February 1, 2024

Tibo is a former refugee turned passionate fundraiser, making an inspiring impact at UNHCR, Dubai.

Background: I was 13 years old when the civil war started in Sierra Leone in March 1991. My village was attacked in April 1991—a horrifying and traumatic experience I would not wish upon anybody. Before the war, the village was a very peaceful community. After April 1991, my childhood was disturbed, and from April until October 1997, I was internally displaced together with my family.

What was it like to be displaced? I was internally displaced on several occasions during the civil war years in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 1997. It was horrible because you are no longer in your local environment, town, or with the people you know. I lost people as they were killed—a horrible experience that remains with me to date. I lost a community member who was a friend to my dad; he was brutally slaughtered and murdered. I witnessed and saw horrific atrocities committed on defenseless and unarmed civilians during the war in Sierra Leone.

Could you share the details of your journey to Ghana?

I was fortunate to escape and sought refuge in Ghana in October 1997 at age 18. I was lucky that I was able to escape with a family and a group of boys. I still remember the checkpoint and the vehicle stopping. I saw armed men coming from the bush—one of them was a teenager armed, captured and recruited. He was my schoolmate, which meant two things: they could harm everyone in the car so that I would not tell anyone that I saw him, or they would let us go. Usually, when armed groups stop cars, they loot and hurt people. I made eye contact with him, and upon seeing me, he told his colleague to put the gate down so we could move forward. I knew God looked after me; I still remember how I felt that day.

I escaped Sierra Leone via Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire (both French-speaking countries) to Ghana where English is the major language. Upon arriving in Ghana, I explained to the immigration officers the situation I was escaping from in Sierra Leone, and they assured me of safety and allowed me to enter.

How did your journey with UNHCR begin? I arrived in Ghana on October 4th, 1997. It was the weekend, and they took me to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) office to declare my presence so I could have identification. I was allocated temporary accommodation from October 4th, 1997, to January 26th, 1998, while awaiting my refugee status approval. I was taken to Krisan Camp in Western Ghana when my refugee status was granted by the Ghana Refugee Board. I remember going to the UNHCR office every week so I could request to study because I wanted to be in school and not waste time without studying. In March 1998, the UNHCR Education Officer eventually secured admission for me at Tema Secondary School, which had a boarding facility. I started studying all over again in Senior Secondary School 1—a three-year program. I graduated in December 2000 and went back to Krisan Refugee Camp as it was the only guaranteed accommodation available for us. I could not further my studies at the university as there was limited funding available for university education in 2001.

How did your resettlement to Australia shape your educational journey? In 2004, we interviewed, and my name was picked for resettlement to Australia. In February 2005, I moved to Australia, which was vastly different but full of hope and opportunities.

I informed the authorities that I wanted to go to university since I had completed high school in Ghana with the support of the UNHCR educational sponsorship. I applied and was granted university admission at Flinders University to study Political Science and International Relations. I started university in 2006 and graduated in 2009.

When and how did your professional journey with UNHCR start? My professional journey with UNHCR started in 2009 after I had a successful interview for Face-to-Face fundraising. I began fundraising across Australia for two years. In 2011, I played a key role in expanding Australia for UNHCR by establishing and leading the first in-house Face-to-Face team in Brisbane, primarily comprising resettled former refugees. I continued as a campaign manager from 2011 to 2019, contributing significantly to UNHCR’s efforts to protect and support refugees globally.

In 2019, I transitioned to UNHCR Global, leading the initiation of Face-to-Face fundraising programs in Africa, specifically in South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria until October 2022. After a successful mission in July 2022, I was relocated to the MENA region under the Global umbrella as of October 29, 2022. Throughout, my motivation has been to give back and contribute to making the world a better place for refugees.

I joined the Face-to-Face UAE team at the beginning of 2023, and now we are in 2024, and our team is succeeding and growing. I cannot feel prouder that I made my dream come true by supporting UNHCR and helping other people in the same way I was rescued. I have spent most of my life with UNHCR and have always seen UNHCR as my second parent. At the time of escaping Sierra Leone, and not knowing where my family was, the field officers were like parents with their compassion and support for me. That is special to me because UNHCR gave me hope when all hope was lost. UNHCR was there; I was able to go to school, go to Australia, go to university, get a job, and become a donor. My dedication and support for UNHCR’s work is unwavering. All I want is to help and contribute—a little drop of water makes a mighty ocean. I am helping in the only way I can.