Phil’s Full Biography
Eastern Congo is picturesque. Lush and fertile, the land is dotted with green hills and is rich in natural resources. Phil Maanulwa grew up there, in the nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo formerly Zaire, and he recalls the scenery admiringly. But ongoing human rights violations in the DRC clash with the serene beauty of Phil’s homeland. Eastern Congo was particularly dangerous and violent. It still is. Phil knows firsthand because he worked as a human rights activist for ten years before being forced to flee.
A Risky Vocation
In line with his human rights work in the Zaire now DRC, Phil had met with a high-level United Nations rapporteur in charge of human rights. This was perceived as a threat to authorities in position of power, who were resisting any dissenting voice. As a result, Phil became a target for assassination. Remaining in the DRC was no longer feasible. Therefore, Phil had to quickly escape and he fled to neighboring Uganda alone. His family later followed him, where they were able to reunite and lived in the country for one and a half years. However, remaining in Uganda was not a good long term option, as that nation was involved in the Eastern DRC conflict, and still is today, decades later.
Phil and his family came to the United States as refugees, and were resettled in Houston, Texas. Phil arrived with limited English skills. However, determined to learn the language and pursue his passion of helping those in need, he enrolled in an intensive English as a Second Language (ESL) program at Houston Community College (HCC) for one summer semester and studied hard. Within a few years he earned an associate degree in Liberal Arts from HCC, followed by a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Houston-Downtown, College of Humanities and Social Science. Phil Served as a Senator with the Students Government Association while attending UHD and was an active member of the same organization at Houston Community College. Later, he pursued a post graduate diploma program in Geneva, Switzerland, specializing in international humanitarian assistance. The program was jointly offered by Fordham University of New York and the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation/International Institute for Humanitarian Action (CIHC/IIHA).
Humanitarian passion coupled with social entrepreneurship and innovative ideas:
In 2008, Phil founded International Emergency and Development Aid (IEDA Relief). In March 2009, IEDA Relief was incorporated in the States of Texas as Texas Corporation and in March 2010, IEDA Relief gained its tax exempt status as a 501(c) 3 not for profit organization. IEDA Relief’s other co-founder is Phil’s longtime friend, Mr. Noel Vayikerye, who believed in his vision and determination from the start. Noel has played a key role in assisting Phil to manage the organization, including heading the activities in the DRC, his homeland. Together they believe in making the world a better place by creating opportunities for all, regardless of their origins and the color of their skin.
The mission of IEDA Relief is to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people by tackling the underlying causes of poverty so that people may become self-sufficient and achieve their full potential. Phil serves as President and CEO of IEDA Relief, based in Houston, Texas. Through IEDA Relief, Phil continues his humanitarian work, now on a global scale. His agency employs over 1,100 people worldwide, managing refugee and Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) camps in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). IEDA Relief is assisting hundreds of thousands of refugees, IDPs, survivors of earthquakes, survivors of typhoons and other indigent populations. The assistance provided by IEDA Relief includes, but is not limited to food assistance, Water Hygiene and Sanitation, livelihood and recovery assistance, health and nutrition, protection,-awareness on Gender Based Violence (GBV), shelter, community services, cultural immersion, English as a Second Language (ESL), drivers education and camp management.
Since IEDA Relief’s inception, Phil has traveled extensively around the world in support of human rights and humanitarian relief efforts; often making great personal sacrifices to reach some of the world’s most vulnerable. Even though his family fully supports his vision of serving the vulnerable, Phil understands that his constant travels can potentially impose a toll on them as they often express how much they miss him when he’s gone. Consequently, Phil is now aiming to gradually reduce his travels and spend more time with his family.
Phil is a passionate humanitarian aid worker and a true social entrepreneur who thoroughly enjoys his craft. He is also known as a tough negotiator who usually challenges the bureaucratic establishment to prevent poor-quality work. He is a firm believer in fostering progressive and innovative ideas in order to find solutions to complex issues. This way of thinking usually puts him at odd with those who prefer status quo and resist change. Since 2007, Phil has spent most of his time working with communities in different countries to help create opportunities for learning, employment, and as much assistance as he could. Phil’s determination to use his work to promote human rights principles around the world is his calling and passion.
Phil can’t return to the life he had but he has learned to make the most of what he does have. Houston is now his home. “If it wasn’t for the generosity of people, we would not have made it,” he reflects. Staying positive and getting an education was also key for Phil.
From a small town in the Democratic Republic of Congo to a refugee life in Uganda to a big metropolis, Phil has faced many hardships. “Anytime anyone is uprooted it is a challenge. Most refugees do not want to leave. There’s always a sense that we’re better off in our homeland,” Phil shares. Yet it is preciselybecause of his refugee experience that he is able to help others. “On the positive side, my experience taught me to live in a different environment. The whole experience was not easy,” Phil confesses, “but it was very rich. It has changed the way I see the world.”
Now the father of seven, Phil stays busy with family and community engagement. He keeps close ties with Houston’s large Congolese refugee community. “The only way I could be able to help so many refugees was to be a refugee myself. I feel really fortunate to be a refugee helping other refugees,” Phil says. He enjoys working with refugees and immigrants in Houston, working to empower them to be self-sufficient and inspiring them to think about how they can help their own communities. Phil feels very fortunate to have received so much and is dedicated to giving back to the community.