Salva Lebo, a juvenile living in Kashojwa zone, Nakivale refugee settlement, sits next to his mother every day for the past two years making craft shoes.
His family lived in Congo before coming to Uganda in 2016 to seek refuge following a wave of conflict in their country.
“My mother taught me how to make craft shoes and I have been working with her for two years now,” said Lebo.
Lebo is one of the 20 youths who are currently engaged in a youth-led crafts making enterprise at the settlements that hosts about 180,000 refugees.
Ms Silvia Koshmosi, the vice Chairperson of the group (who is also Lebo’s mother) said that the initiative has greatly supported household income generation in the settlement since a great number of refugees are involved in it.
“We keep training them in different intakes that last six months and as per now, there is at least one person in every household in this zone who knows how to make crafts,” said Kosmosi.
A look at the surrounding of the “training hub” indicated that there were positive results of the program in the area.
“We now have something that keeps us busy. We have a market for our crafts both within the settlement and at the City (Mbarara),” added Koshmosi.
Affected by COVID-19
Joseph Mubarak Tchombwa, the chairperson of the team, revealed that however much the initiative has gained momentum, they have been let down by the outbreak of the pandemic.
“We used to sell these crafts to the towns of Isingiro and Mbarara City, but since lockdown was announced, we have never moved out of the settlement.
As a solution, Mubarak said that they are having plans to start a website that can enable them to market their products virtually since they are unable to move out to the nearby markets.
He also added that the busy schedules have prevented the youth from Kashojwa into criminal activities, teenage pregnancies among others.
“As you can see, almost everybody keeps him/herself busy. We are grateful to ALIGHT organization for giving us the startup support,” said the Chairperson.
ALIGHT is a protection implementing partner for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), that is currently helping refugees in general protection, child protection, sexual and gender based violence, community based protection, physical and legal based protection and, mental health and psychosocial support.
Rebecca Lucy Argom, the program manager for ALIGHT, said that they have supported this particular youth initiative with a sewing machine and startup capital (1,500,000/=) that enabled them to acquire sewing and craft making materials.
“We are supporting about 70 initiatives in the areas of sexual and gender based violence, community based protection, physical and legal based protection and, mental health and psychosocial support and many more across the settlement,” said Argon.
The youth at Nakivale refugee settlement found in Isingiro district, share a disproportionate burden of difficult circumstances such as poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and diseases among others.
This is majorly because of the limited opportunities for practical skills acquisition and viable employment, and poor access to education, health and social services.
Ray of Hope
Her Excellency Rosa Malango, the United Nations Resident Director (Ambassador), who has been to the refugee settlement, disclosed that the Government of Uganda and the United Nations in Uganda are working with the Youth Coalition for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to undertake the One Million youth SDGs Solutions Innovation Challenge.
According to the Ambassador, the overall objective of One Million SDG Solutions from Youth in Uganda Innovation Challenge is to identify and mobilize Ugandan youth with solutions that are changing lives.
She further advised the head of UNHCR in Mbarara regional office and ALIGHT to identify more refugee youth-led initiatives that can be included to benefit in the project.
“We need to collect all these refugee led initiatives and make a plan to ensure that refugees will not be left out,” Ms Malango said.
The One Million SDG Solutions Challenge will happen simultaneously with popularization of the 2030 Agenda at national and local levels, to mobilize, empower and motivate one million young people in Uganda to meaningfully join the actions and discussions geared towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Decade of Action.
The United Nations is also marking its 75th anniversary this year in October this year, at a time of great challenge, including the worst global health crisis in its history.