Life on the Edge – Uganda’s Congolese Refugees

It is difficult to imagine the life of a Congolese refugee, in the western world we are far removed from the realities of fighting, fleeing and surviving. In the last 12 months, HYT has provided construction training to 56 Congolese refugees. In the hope of bringing some context to HYT’s work, here is a snapshot of their experiences. 

Typical refugee house

For many Congolese, being a refugee has defined their lives. An average refugee’s story spans over 10 years, involves multiple countries, at least one hopeful journey home followed by another desperate escape. 

The men leave first, they have no choice but to flee or join the fighting. Often without warning in the dead of night they say goodbye to their wives and children and trek though jungles in the hope of finding safety. ‘I told my wife to find me in Uganda’ says 39 year old Django, a Congolese HYT graduate, ‘I didn’t expect to see her ever again’. Luckily for Django his wife did find him in Uganda, 4 years later. 

Django, far left, on Graduation day January 2021

Django and his wife have lived in refugee settlements in South Africa, Zambia and Uganda. Their initial 1,200km escape from the DRC to South Africa involved a mixture of hitchhiking and walking. After periods living in South Africa and then Zambia they returned to the DRC on promises of safety. Less than a year passed before Django was forced to flee his home once again.

He arrived in Uganda in 2014 and decided he was done running. The laws in Uganda are welcoming to refugees, each family is given a plot of land and basic materials to build a house. The settlements cover vast areas of fertile land, it is not the crowded shanty towns one might picture. 

Kyaka II refugee settlement covers a huge area of rolling hills

Django spent years looking for work, he survived on World Food Program rations and sold any surplus crops we could grow. He enrolled in a number of NGO run trainings, in 2018 he took a computer course but sadly no work followed. By this time, his wife had joined him and they had 3 children to look after. While his family grew, his hopes of finding work were diminishing. 

Children on the Edge’s Early Childhood Development Centres

In August 2020, Children on the Edge began an ambitious plan to invest in 30 community led nurseries (called Early Childhood Development Centres). The project included the construction of 16 brand new centres, HYT was employed to deliver the construction in a climate-friendly manner and incorporate vocational training into the project.

The classroom built by Django and the team will service some of the world’s most marginalised children

Django helps translates a message from HYT country manager Mauricia Nambatya

Django was in the first cohort of trainees. His English was perfect thanks to his time in South Africa, he soon became an invaluable member of the team. He helped HYT’s trainers explain complex construction techniques and in the process gained a firm grip on the techniques himself. 

Django, centre, during training

Since graduating in January 2021, Django has been working in construction. His income has gone from zero to over $100 a month. His family has new clothes, a solar panel and money for school fees. One of the key reasons HYT training is so effective is that the Ugandan construction industry is booming, both inside and outside the refugee settlements. Django now has means to make a living and provide a better life for his family.

Django’s new solar panel charges a battery which powers his lights and charges his and his neighbours’ phones

Huge thank you to Children On The Edge for their pioneering work and to UNHCR Uganda and the Office of the Prime Minister.

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