We begin with the Trust’s recent project in Africa’s largest refugee camp, Bidi Bidi, northern Uganda.
Until a few years ago, Bidi Bidi was an empty tract of land in northern Uganda, occupied only by a few scattered villages, whose people eked out a meagre living in the swathes of inhospitable bush. Bidi Bidi is now home to 240,000 refugees from South Sudan who fled that country’s bitter civil war, at the height of which up to 6000 crossed into Uganda every day. Bidi Bidi is now a sizeable city, administered by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Led by Assistant Country Manager and Old Haileyburian, Ed Brett, HYT working with international NGO, Mercy Corps and its Mercy Corps BRIDGE project, successfully trained 26 refugees and Ugandans in building, constructing a large meeting space and two kiosks for trades people in Bidi Bidi‘s Zone 3. The camp is so huge, it is divided into Zones, each a small town, with up to 50,000 inhabitants. During the Bidibidi project HYT trained 26 youths in all aspects of construction.
The project began last May, when HYT recruited 26 youths (20 refugee and six Ugandan) who then had four months of intensive construction training, led by HYT’s outstanding training managers, with a special focus on HYT’s innovative, environmentally friendly building technology, the Interlocking Stabilised Soil Block (ISSB),
An important aspect of working in refugee areas is to include the Ugandan host community as well as the refugees themselves, so benefits are equally shared in what is one of the world’s poorest countries. Another consideration was gender balance. Like in the UK, the construction industry in Uganda is male dominated and so HYT was pleased to have 10 female trainees on this project.
In September, after four months of hard work, the trainees celebrated their graduation. The commitment and skill of both trainees and staff can be seen in the quality of the buildings, which were met with approval and appreciation from UNHCR and the Office of the Prime Minister. Most importantly, the refugee community itself was thrilled to have these new facilities in which to meet and trade.
The environmentally-friendly approach to building was also greeted with increased respect. Before the project started, there was some doubt that a compressed earth block, one that wasn’t fired in the local way, would be strong enough. Lab testing proved that HYT’s blocks are both durable and strong, as well as being a sustainable method of building.
The project saved the equivalent of 19.1 tons of firewood or more than four mature trees.
Following HYT’s successful project in Zone 3, Mercy Corps invited HYT to construct another meeting centre in Bidibidi’s Zone 4. HYT’s first project in one of the world’s largest refugee settlements was an outstanding achievement and paved the way for more life changing work to come.
In our next piece, we will tell the remarkable story of Cisco, one of the stand out trainees from Bidi Bidi and a refugee determined to make the most of his new found skills.