Why refugees’ self-reliance is important.

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.