Harvesting Hope; How Youth Skilling is Reshaping Refugee Futures

James's sister lilian displays thier harvest
Tuesday, January 16, 2024

In the heart of the expansive Imvepi Refugee Settlement, amid a cluster of makeshift shelters, a dynamic narrative unfolds. To the left, the thriving vegetable garden nurtured by 26-year-old James captures attention, while to the right, a diverse range of activities blossoms: rabbit-rearing, chicken-rearing, dove-rearing, and goat-rearing.

James, a father of two, carries a profound passion for farming rooted in his earliest memories. Originating from South Sudan, farming was a cherished tradition in his family, where they toiled together during school breaks.

James displays his bumpy harvest
James proudly displays his bountiful harvest with a mix of satisfaction and accomplishment.

However, as conflict in his homeland spiraled out of control, James and his family sought refuge in the Imvepi Refugee Settlement. There, they endeavored to uphold their family farming tradition, facing formidable challenges on the rugged, rocky 30 by 30-meter plot they settled on.

James recounts, "Every planting effort was met with meager yields that hardly justified our hard work. It felt futile, and we came close to giving up." Frustrated by setbacks, James temporarily abandoned small-scale farming and sought alternative income sources within the settlement.

His turning point arrived when he joined the Seseya (A)-Village Savings and Loans Association. With limited savings, an alternative income seemed distant. The group required a minimum share price of UGX 1000/= (USD 0.3 ) for a share, with a maximum of 5 shares per session. James shares, "On a good day, I could save two shares, but borrowing seemed challenging. I took odd jobs to supplement our food rations and save, but the outcomes were always insufficient."

James diligently tending to his farm's goats with care and commitment.
James diligently tending to his farm's goats with care and commitment.

As food distribution rations dwindled and became irregular, James and his family faced hardships, with days of one meal and month-end food shortages. The situation worsened when his 2-year-old daughter, Lilian, was diagnosed with malnutrition in January 2021, requiring a diet James couldn't afford.

Lilian's illness sparked James's renewed focus on vegetable cultivation, recognising the need for knowledge and skills. The Security, Protection and Economic Empowerment (SUPREME) project's youth skilling program arrived opportunistically, selecting James and 500 youth from Imvepi to receive training in horticulture, mechanics, hairdressing, fashion, and design.

James expressed gratitude, saying, "Being selected felt like an answer to our prayers, ending the days of going without food." The program equipped James with crucial knowledge, covering manure utilisation, effective vegetable spacing, various varieties, pesticide application, and nursery preparation, injecting hope into his family.

James displays some the rabits in his farm
James proudly showcases some of the rabbits from his thriving farm.

Returning, James planted short-term vegetables for consumption and sale, generating over UGX 500,000/= (USD 131 )  after a three-month season. Financial literacy skills enabled him to save, borrow, and maximise benefits from the Savings and Loans Association. "borrowed UGX 150,000/= (USD 39) and, with harvest proceeds, expanded my farm. I also acquired rabbits, goats, and pigeons," he shares.

James has become a key supplier of rabbits, addressing food shortages in the settlement. With newfound skills, he inspires hope, proving that with knowledge and abilities, anyone can achieve food security in challenging circumstances.

Story and Photo by: Brian Jakisa Mungu- Communications Officer