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StepUp Success Stories: Gender Equality

December 10, 2020

Olivia Garner IRT examines how StepUp communities are improving intrahousehold relations, including an increase in gender equality and reduction in domestic violence. IRT’s StepUp training programme, in partnership with the Organisation for Community Action (OCA) in Uganda, has knock-on effects in all aspects of the community. The programme is responsible for changing ideas around the […]

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Olivia Garner

IRT examines how StepUp communities are improving intrahousehold relations, including an increase in gender equality and reduction in domestic violence.

IRT’s StepUp training programme, in partnership with the Organisation for Community Action (OCA) in Uganda, has knock-on effects in all aspects of the community. The programme is responsible for changing ideas around the household, gender norms and family values. By helping participants to envision a better life and providing the means to achieve it, married couples, families and widows, have turned their lives around.

We have observed from case studies of StepUp participants in the West Nile region of Uganda that developing pride in the home is particularly important for developing this ambition and for gaining respect in communities; turning feelings of hopelessness into empowerment. Programmes to improve sanitation and other domestic practices, for example, are thus very effective. As home dwellers change their living conditions it not only improves their health and economic opportunities but helps change their mentality. Husbands and wives coming together to implement their StepUp training and achieve their goals has reduced domestic violence and conflict and increased unity and gender equality. Women’s participation in the training has changed community perceptions of women and their abilities. Husbands have come to view their wives as empowered and knowledgeable, and widows have also gained more respect in their communities.

One especially inspiring story comes from Faiza and Malaika. This married couple say that “before OCA came to our village we had no focus in all that we did as a family. We were not organised because we did not have a picture of what our future would look like. We never worked together as a couple. We had no sanitation facilities like a latrine, refuse pit, dish drying rack, or clothes drying line. Our home was not fenced and the compound was littered with rubbish. We could only afford one meal and only ate what we were able to get each day meaning we did not care the type of food served. We did not have any source of income yet we never planned and budgeted together the little we earned individually. We fell sick more frequently from preventable diseases, such as coughs, typhoid and intestinal worms, due to the unhygienic home and poor nutrition.” In addition, the couple had little respect for each other, creating a source of conflict and unhappiness.

Faiza at the couple’s compound planted with a live fence

They continue, “When OCA came to our community, they created awareness and trained us in different skills. We specifically want to acknowledge that our perception of life and the future has changed. We now have a dream which we are strategically working to achieve. We have set our homestead well planted with a live fence, we constructed a dish drying rack and refuse pit and our home has become the cleanest in the whole Village. We are in the process of constructing our latrine with slabs, iron roofing and plastered with cement. We have planted a variety of fruit trees and vegetables and have been taught how to handle, prepare and preserve vegetables and fruits to ensure their nutritional values are maintained. With improved sanitation and hygiene and good nutrition, we do not fall sick frequently. We are becoming more food secure as a result of the various skills in agriculture. OCA taught us to stay in harmony as couples and with our neighbours, as well as to plan and budget together as couples, which has reduced conflict in our community.” Faiza says, “My husband values me more and feels proud being by my side. He supports me so much in what traditionally used to be regarded as the role of women such as sweeping, cooking, caring for children and fetching water”. Malaika adds “we are a living testimony of an improved relationship and rebuilt love. I love my wife more than ever before. I protect her against harm.”

Faiza, Malaika and their son participate in a StepUp meeting

With all the trainings and support given to us by OCA, we have a clear vision. We plan to construct a permanent house, start an income generating activity by engaging in intensive vegetable growing alongside a small-scale business that will support us financially, and open a bank account as we are now used to saving regularly in the group, something we never did before. We have a bright future for our children by working hard to pay for better schools for them,” shared Faiza and Malaika. The OCA staff testify to the remarkable love story of this couple. Malaika and Faiza now refer to each other as “honey”, a true reflection of their renewed relationship.


StepUp Success Stories: Nola

December 1, 2020

Madeleine Cuckson Nola embraces StepUp and becomes the administrator of her local programme #StepUpSuccessStories Nola lives in the village of Nyogo Anzupi in Uganda. Nola has lived alone for many years due to her husband Robert’s pursuits of casual work outside of the community, in order to support their family financially. This has left Nola […]

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Madeleine Cuckson

Nola embraces StepUp and becomes the administrator of her local programme #StepUpSuccessStories

Nola lives in the village of Nyogo Anzupi in Uganda. Nola has lived alone for many years due to her husband Robert’s pursuits of casual work outside of the community, in order to support their family financially. This has left Nola with a large amount of responsibility both in the home and on their land. 

Robert’s decision to migrate is not uncommon, many men in Nola’s community leave due to farming challenges. The difficulties of trying to earn a sufficient wage in the community include the small sizes of land plots available, these plots often have poor soil quality due to decades of tobacco growth, using inorganic methods which leads to scarce harvests. Many households in Nola’s community live off the equivalent of 1$ a day. The village is often set back by the following: regular food shortages which cause malnutrition, regular occurrences of preventable diseases due to sanitation issues, high rates of substance abuse and many dropping out of school, which has led to a high rate of illiteracy.

With the help of the Step Up Programme, implemented by OCA, communities like Nola’s are provided with crucial practical training to help increase their incomes, improve health and general wellbeing. Nola has been a great asset to the programme, upon joining she has successfully implemented the skills acquired from training and has become the secretary to the programme in her village. Nola now grows many different fruits and vegetables and has improved the quality of her soil with organic farming techniques, additionally Nola has made significant changes to the infrastructure of her household – with the building of a dish drying rack, a fence to surround her home, a latrine with a bath shelter attached and has prepared burnt bricks to build a more permanent house. Nola has also planted over 250 agroforestry and timber trees to help the environment.

The Step Up Programme not only improves individuals’ lives but has the capacity to bring people together, as Nola has found that through engagement with the programme she has gained leadership skills and is a respected, powerful figure in her village with authority to make decisions – therefore, the goal is for the whole community to prosper. Nola and Robert now have high hopes for the future, they intend to send their children to better schools, Robert plans to return home and join Nola to help harvest even more produce, start a small livestock business and construct a permanent house.

IRT needs donors to be able to continue our valuable work.

If you would like to make a difference to the lives of vulnerable farmers in northern Uganda, please consider donating today. You can do this through our website at https://www.irt.org.uk/donate/ or by calling our office on 020 8994 9120. Thank you!


IRT CHRISTMAS CARDS ON SALE NOW!

November 19, 2020

All designs come in packs of 10 costing £5.50 per pack including P&P. All packs include 10 envelopes. There are several ways to place your order: By email: Please fill in the below form, and email your order to [email protected] Please include your phone number, and a member of IRT staff will call you to […]

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All designs come in packs of 10 costing £5.50 per pack including P&P. All packs include 10 envelopes.

There are several ways to place your order:

By email: Please fill in the below form, and email your order to [email protected]. Please include your phone number, and a member of IRT staff will call you to take payment over the phone.

By phone: Please call 0782 566 1993 to place your order over the phone.

By post: Please print your completed order form, and send with a cheque made payable to ‘International Refugee Trust’, to International Refugee Trust, 11 Heathfield Terrace, Chiswick, W4 4JE.

Please click on the link below to download, print and fill in the order form:


StepUp: Education During Lockdown

November 17, 2020

Olivia Garner IRT explores how children in StepUp communities have been coping with lockdown and the closure of schools. International Refugee Trust is passionate about the importance of education as a way out of poverty. Through IRT’s StepUp programme in rural northern Uganda, families are taught the importance of sending children to school and the […]

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Olivia Garner

IRT explores how children in StepUp communities have been coping with lockdown and the closure of schools.

International Refugee Trust is passionate about the importance of education as a way out of poverty. Through IRT’s StepUp programme in rural northern Uganda, families are taught the importance of sending children to school and the enormous benefits and opportunities an education provides. As another component of the programme, the Organisation for Community Action (OCA), IRT’s partner, has established a scholarship scheme which pays school fees for girls in StepUp communities. In northern Uganda, national lockdown and the closing of schools has had a significant impact on children’s studies. Students from rural areas, without internet access, are unable to benefit from the remote online teaching embraced in other parts of the world.

At first, when schools closed it was a difficult adjustment for a lot of families. Many students were given holiday packages by their schools to complete whilst in lockdown, but the lockdown lasted a lot longer than anticipated. The students made other efforts to keep up with their studies by listening to remote education through the radio and having group discussions with classmates within their villages.

Emmy, a Senior Two student from Wisdom High School under OCA sponsorship, reviews his holiday package as his mother looks on.

StepUp participant Martine told OCA’s trained experts on the ground that “as a result of schools being closed, some irresponsible men are taking advantage of this situation to marry off the girls in the village by telling them that COVID-19 will not end and that school will not open again. However, parents that received StepUp training are talking to their children on the dangers of early marriage and engaging them on agricultural activities to keep them busy.” Martine said the children have really helped with domestic work. They have been of great help in growing cabbages which were harvested this season, with part of the profits to be kept for school fees when school reopens.

Martine’s family weed part of their remaining cabbages.

Angella, a Senior Two student with a StepUp scholarship at Wisdom High School, testified that she has been able to complete her school work in addition to helping out with domestic work. When interviewed, she said, “My parents are giving me and my siblings enough time to revise our books which we do in the afternoon, late evening and very early in the morning at around 5:00am since we have lamps. At my school we were given a holiday package which I have completed.” She added, “I want to thank my parents for being so supportive towards our education by giving us enough time for holiday studies. And I also want to thank OCA too for sponsoring my studies.” Angella’s grandmother Faustina was pleased to see her sons helping Angella and her other grandchildren with school work. She said, “Seeing all this makes me so happy because even though the children are not at school, they are showing a positive attitude towards education that shall make a better future for them.”

Despite the lockdown adding another barrier to education, especially for girls, it is rewarding to see that families in the StepUp programme remain committed to the future generation having an education. It is so inspiring to see the long-lasting impact that StepUp training has, and it is hoped that the students are able to continue their education throughout the duration of the pandemic and beyond.


StepUp Success Stories: Hope for Widow Gotiliva

November 10, 2020

Madeleine Cuckson IRT volunteer Madeleine Cuckson writes about how Gotiliva transformed her life with StepUp as part of our #StepUpSuccessStories series. Gotiliva is one of many beneficiaries whose life has been turned around with the help of IRT’s Step Up programme in Uganda. After losing her husband, Gotiliva was left devastated with little hope for […]

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Madeleine Cuckson

IRT volunteer Madeleine Cuckson writes about how Gotiliva transformed her life with StepUp as part of our #StepUpSuccessStories series.

Gotiliva is one of many beneficiaries whose life has been turned around with the help of IRT’s Step Up programme in Uganda. After losing her husband, Gotiliva was left devastated with little hope for the future. She had no financial support and lived within very basic means, describing how she had ‘no dish drying rack, no latrine, no refuse pit for dumping rubbish’. Gotiliva used traditional farming methods to cultivate her land but this incurred large amounts of time, excursion and didn’t achieve a good harvest, leaving Gotiliva with close to nothing to survive off.

The StepUp programme provided Gotiliva with the building and agricultural training necessary to live a full life again, earn a good wage and harvest crops using more effective farming practices. Gotiliva has now constructed a high-quality latrine with a washing facility attached, a dish drying rack and a better kitchen with a larger variety of vegetables on raised beds. Not only does Gotiliva feel happier with her home and livelihood, she is a self-sufficient member of her community – “I dress better and eat well…I am so much respected in the community”.

Gotiliva poses with her old latrine, and new, improved latrine that she was able to save for and build through StepUp.

The real impact of StepUp’s life-changing work is always shown through our programme beneficiaries’ stories. For Gotiliva, the programme has provided her with a new lease of life and a powerful future:

“I have followed my dreams to achieve a permanent house, serious savings to acquire those household items that I do not have now, such as better bedding, utensils, plant more fruit, agroforestry and timber trees. My dream is to live a better life and die a happy woman, a woman of value and substance who will always leave a legacy in the community for other women to follow.”

As Step Up continues to expand, we aim to bring our training and support programme to even more communities, with the help of our dedicated partners at OCA who implement this programme in communities across northern Uganda.

IRT needs donors to be able to continue our valuable work.

If you would like to make a difference to the lives of vulnerable farmers in northern Uganda, please consider donating today. You can do this through our website at https://www.irt.org.uk/donate/ or by calling our office on 020 8994 9120. Thank you!


StepUp: Producing Crops in a Pandemic

November 9, 2020

Olivia Garner IRT’s new volunteer, Olivia Garner, explores how StepUp communities have been coping with the Ugandan lockdown As England enters another national lockdown, the challenges of Covid-19 are fresh in the national consciousness. As the pandemic draws on, the long-term and economic effects are becoming main concerns, not just nationally but globally. IRT’s StepUp […]

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Olivia Garner

IRT’s new volunteer, Olivia Garner, explores how StepUp communities have been coping with the Ugandan lockdown

As England enters another national lockdown, the challenges of Covid-19 are fresh in the national consciousness. As the pandemic draws on, the long-term and economic effects are becoming main concerns, not just nationally but globally.

IRT’s StepUp programme, in partnership with the Organisation for Community Action (OCA) in Uganda, helps support farmers to improve their livelihoods and achieve sustainable development. Farming communities are provided with training in technical agricultural skills as well as training in sanitation and hygiene and gender equality. But how have StepUp participants been coping in the face of Covid-19 and lockdown?

Those with small businesses selling agricultural products in town have suffered the most, as local markets closed down. This greatly affected small businesses and households relying on agriculture as their main source of income. Furthermore, with the markets closed, food prices rocketed.

Speaking to OCA’s trained experts on the ground, Christine from the Aboloneno Village, said, “At the beginning when we heard about the COVID-19 pandemic, we were very scared by the global death rate as aired out through a local radio. I used to do a business of selling fresh cassava in Lira town but because of the lockdown, I stopped for a while. This affected our daily source of income and survival since the little savings we had was spent on feeding and meeting other basic needs for the family members.”

Christine continues, “We therefore concentrated more on farming. We have planted rice, tomatoes and soya beans for co-operative business and other food crops. After harvest we intend to sell the produce and use the money to roof our house”.

Faustina, of Adaganii Village, has also found a way forward through agricultural work, especially with her grandchildren around to help out. Faustina testified that Covid-19 created a lot of fear among her and her family members. She said that the lockdown limited her movement which prevented her from seeing her children and other relatives whom she misses a lot. She told IRT, “As an old woman I want to see my children and relatives as it gives me strength to move on with life. This virus has affected my grand children’s education because they are back home and I don’t know when they will go back to school.” However, amidst all the challenges brought by Covid-19, Faustina has turned her fear into hope. She diverted all her attention to farming which she believes will produce high yields due to the agricultural practices and skills training received through the StepUp programme. She has planted maize, groundnuts, beans, millet, cassava and onions for food and commercial purposes.

Faustina stands in her Maize garden, excited about the good performance of the crop. She plans to use the money from the harvest for constructing a house.

Overall, the Covid-19 lockdown has brought unprecedented challenges to farming communities in rural northern Uganda. Through the StepUp programme, farmers have been helped to improve their crop yields in order to sell their crops, as well as gain self-sufficiency, helping them to overcome rocketing food prices. Savings gained through increased incomes also help to protect them from the adverse economic effects of the pandemic. However, as the pandemic shows few signs of abating, these farmers need our support more than ever to face the continued challenges of Covid-19 and sustain their livelihoods.

IRT needs donors to be able to continue our valuable work.

If you would like to make a difference to the lives of vulnerable farmers in northern Uganda, please consider donating today. You can do this through our website at https://www.irt.org.uk/donate/ or by calling our office on 020 8994 9120. Thank you!


Progress in Grain Processing for StepUp Farmers

October 6, 2020

The Apala Farmers’ Collective has gone from strength to strength following the installation of a maize mill. During 2018, IRT were able to fund a grain store and drying area for nine communities in Okwangole Parish in Lira, northern Uganda.  The communities taking part were rural returnee farmers who had participated in our StepUp scheme […]

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The Apala Farmers’ Collective has gone from strength to strength following the installation of a maize mill.

During 2018, IRT were able to fund a grain store and drying area for nine communities in Okwangole Parish in Lira, northern Uganda.  The communities taking part were rural returnee farmers who had participated in our StepUp scheme following returning to their villages after the brutal devastation of The Lord’s Resistance Army.

The Apala Cooperative in 2018, posing on the land they collectively saved and purchased for the grain mill before its construction

These farmers had transformed their lives, from surviving on one meal a day to running successful farms, all through participating in StepUp. When the grain store was built in 2018, the farmers in the Okwangole region formed The Apala Collective, with the intention of working together to store and sell produce in bulk to buyers, which they have been doing ever since.

The Apala Collective were thrilled with the grain store, but knew they could increase their profits even further through the installation of a maize mill. IRT were able to fund this during 2020, and the maize mill was built and installed in just under a month, with StepUp participants contributing their time and labour to help.

A customer sorts her maize using a sieve, after which the maize will be hurled and milled. This improves the quality of the ‘posho’ – processed maize.

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, the entrepreneurial farmers have hit the ground running since the installation of a maize hurler and grain processing machine at the grain store. The site is now a fully-fledged hub where farmers can store, dry, bulk and process grains such as maize, millet, sorghum and cassava. Customers can also bring their own grains and pay to process them at the mill.  

As part of their training, the machine operators carefully observe the technician as he runs the hurler.

Interviews were held for the position of machine operators, and the successful candidates have now completed their training and are able to operate the processing machine with ease. Apala Cooperative is now proud to own the best maize machine in the Okwangole area! The increased profits made from selling processed maize (known locally as ‘posho’) means the farmers have increased their savings, which they use towards making home and farm improvements, and, vitally, sending their children to school.

Board members of the Apala Cooperative ran interviews for machine operator positions.

This is a fantastic example of how agricultural training, long-term investment and hard-work can come together to create sustainable, long-term solutions to poverty. IRT continue to run StepUp alongside our partners on the ground, OCA, every year due to its proven track record of increasing self-sufficiency and access to education, provision of financial stability for participants and improvement of health and sanitation for returnee farmers. All StepUp projects and programmes are designed based on a participatory approach whereby all stakeholders are involved right from problem identification, project design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

Hellen checks how her and her husband’s soya beans are doing. Hellen is the Treasurer for The Apala Cooperative. She tell us, “We are expecting a good harvest which we will keep for bulking”.

Donate with Dumbbells

September 18, 2020

IRT are thrilled with our kind donation from ‘Donate with Dumbbells’! Over the course of lockdown, it seems that everyone became familiar with Zoom video calls. Some of the healthier among us even dipped our toes in Zoom workouts and fitness training! While leading these sorts of sessions, fitness trainer Praniel Doolabh had an idea; […]

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IRT are thrilled with our kind donation from ‘Donate with Dumbbells’!

Over the course of lockdown, it seems that everyone became familiar with Zoom video calls. Some of the healthier among us even dipped our toes in Zoom workouts and fitness training! While leading these sorts of sessions, fitness trainer Praniel Doolabh had an idea; he wanted to combine his passion for leading fitness classes with charitable fundraising. From there, ‘Donate with Dumbbells’ was born.

Praniel runs free ‘Donate with Dumbbells’ sessions every week, where he encourages participants to donate money to a good cause. On Saturday 12th September, participants donated a total of £160 towards IRT, all of which will go directly towards helping the vulnerable refugees and displaced people we support overseas. We are so grateful to everyone who took part for your generosity during such a challenging year.

Praniel came up with the idea after reflecting on how some us are more fortunate to keep our jobs as so many others face uncertainty.

He tells IRT “I was inspired to use my passion for fitness to support those less fortunate… We have raised proceeds in support of Black Lives Matter, education, cancer, food distribution, the Yemen crisis, the Lebanon blast, the Mauritius oil spill and many others.”

Getting fit for a good cause

The sessions consist of a full body workout comprising of HIIT, upper body, lower body and abs. No equipment is required, however dumbbells or resistance bands are optional additions. Sessions are always designed to provide exercise variations from beginner to intermediate level. If you are interested in participating or learning more about ‘Donate with Dumbbells’, please follow the Instagram handle @‘donate.with.dumbbells’ or visit the Facebook page ‘Donate with Dumbbells’.

IRT would like to once again offer our huge thanks to Praneil Dooblagh and all of his sporty participants for your fundraising efforts. Their selfless ingenuity is so inspiring to see and will really make a difference to our vital, life-saving projects across Jordan, Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania.


IRT Update – News from IRT regarding COVID-19

March 17, 2020

Dear Partners and Friends of IRT, As you will be aware, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has had a massive impact on countries all over the world.  The situation in the UK has worsened and yesterday our government made an announcement regarding keeping safe and preventing the spread of the virus.  We have taken their advice, […]

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Dear Partners and Friends of IRT,

As you will be aware, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has had a massive impact on countries all over the world.  The situation in the UK has worsened and yesterday our government made an announcement regarding keeping safe and preventing the spread of the virus. 

We have taken their advice, and all London IRT staff will now be working remotely from home.  We will not be present in the office until further notice.  We are still using our usual irt.org email addresses and phone numbers, so please do contact us should you have any queries or would like to make a donation at [email protected]

We are working our usual hours, but there may be a slight delay in responding to your messages. 

We appreciate your cooperation and patience, we will try to keep things running as smoothly as possible in this difficult time, and will continue to support our various projects overseas as usual.

On behalf of everybody at IRT, please be safe and we hope to be back to normal as soon as possible.


Why refugees’ self-reliance is important.

February 25, 2020

Our new volunteer Marina Munoz writes about her experiences living for a year in Nairobi. She observed the difficulties that refugees experience integrating in Kenya and addresses the benefits of Uganda’s approach to refugees and how IRT contributes to it. Uganda: A Role Model for Refugee Integration Uganda, as of February 2020, hosts around 1.4 […]

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Our new volunteer Marina Munoz writes about her experiences living for a year in Nairobi. She observed the difficulties that refugees experience integrating in Kenya and addresses the benefits of Uganda’s approach to refugees and how IRT contributes to it.

Uganda: A Role Model for Refugee Integration

Uganda, as of February 2020, hosts around 1.4 m refugees that run from political instability and violence from neighbouring countries such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Despite the massive influx of refugees, Uganda is considered one of the most progressive refugee hosting countries in the world because of their ‘Refugee Self-Reliance Strategy’. Under this model, refugees have the right to work and move freely within the country, which is believed to have supported the national economy’s development. Moreover, Uganda’s government has been allocating plots of land for these refugees so they can grow their own food, which makes them less dependent on food aid, boosting their self-esteem and providing them with useful skills that they can use in rebuilding their communities upon return.

How is IRT working towards the achievement of this goal?

IRT acknowledges the importance of self-sufficiency for refugees by partnering with the Organisation for Community Action (OCA) which operates in Uganda, and aims to empower people to force a positive change through their StepUp Programme.

StepUp is divided in four main areas: sustainable agriculture, social ventures, savings, credit, gender and community development. In order to promote sustainable agriculture, better farming as well as crop management skills are taught. The social venture project is mainly focused on three enterprises: improving hygiene, raising awareness about solar lighting and production of sanitary pads. As a member of the community expressed: “I was very ignorant because I did not go to school. Because of OCA, I acquired a lot of knowledge. I now use a sewing machine and make reusable sanitary towels for women and young girls in the community”. Refugees were also trained to manage their own finances, explore small scale business opportunities and loan record keeping. As another member of the community indicated: “OCA taught me how to do business, and I thought about selling cooking oil, soap and onions. The business is helping me in paying school fees, that is why I thank OCA for the plan that they gave me”. Lastly, IRT aims to empower women within their own community encouraging them to take on leadership roles and offering girls basic education. As refugees, Aceng Collin and Ogwal Bruno, shared: “I thought girl-child education was useless, I never advised my children to study hard. We did not bother to check their report cards. When OCA came in, they trained us on the importance of education and encouraged us to give our girls equal treatment as the boys.” 

My experience in Kenya compared to Uganda

I think that IRT’s support to the StepUp Programme is crucial to ensure the self-sufficiency of refugees to remind them of their autonomy and agency. Fleeing one’s home is a traumatic experience for many refugees, normally having terrible consequences for their mental health, self-confidence and integration in the host society. During my experience last year living in Kenya where there is an encampment law that does not allow refugees to leave the refugee camps, I understood how relevant projects like StepUp are to provide refugees with the skills to depend on themselves and integrate. IRT acknowledges this issue and needs your support to make the life of refugees in Uganda much better.