Top Grafters help HYT in large-scale project in Bidibidi refugee settlement.

Providing Employable Skills in Africa’s Largest Refugee Settlement: The Story of the Top Grafters

In the realm of development, significant focus is placed on women’s empowerment—and rightly so, it has been shown to break the cycle of generational poverty. However, this focus can inadvertently marginalise young men, often painting them as lazy or financially irresponsible. This brings us to a unique group of young men, refugees from South Sudan, who have united under the principles of hard work and optimism for the future.

The Top Grafters team

Calling themselves the “Top Grafters,” this group consists of fifteen young men aged 18-23, who fled the war in South Sudan during their childhoods. Each of them tragically lost their fathers to the conflict and spent their formative years with mothers or grandparents. While such backgrounds could predispose them to significant challenges, these young men banded together in 2016, completed their primary and secondary education, and are now committed to building a brighter future as the Top Grafters.

“To be a Top Grafter means to never give up,” explains 21-year-old Peter Khemis. “We live together in Village 13 (Bidi Bidi), and we seek any and all employment. When we secure a job, we see it through to completion. It’s all about never giving up.” Despite the scarcity of paid work in the region, Peter noted that their dedication has built them a good reputation. “People recognise us for our hard work, they hire us for tasks like digging latrine pits, harvesting crops, and recently, crafting bamboo baskets.”

Sam, 19, putting the finishing touches on a bamboo basket

Currently, the group is engaged in a project with the Haileybury Youth Trust (HYT), constructing bamboo baskets for lining household latrine pits in areas where soil is prone to collapse. When asked about other qualities of a Top Grafter, Peter shared, “We avoid alcohol, respect one another, support each other, and we do not have time for girlfriends”. His last remark, pointed directly at his grinning colleague, drew a roar of laughter from the group.

HYT’s recent venture into Zone 1 of Bidi Bidi has opened further doors for these industrious young men. They approached HYT seeking opportunities and were quickly employed to construct bamboo baskets, a project that will provide two months of employment. After this, they will join HYT’s construction training program, which focuses on building skills using Interlocking Stabilised Soil Blocks (ISSB)—a sustainable, low-carbon building material.

Following the completion of bamboo baskets, the group joined HYT training to learn construction skills with a focus on sustainable Interlocking Stabilised Soil Block (ISSB) technology.

Speaking with these driven and intelligent young men, we at HYT are excited to equip them with valuable skills that enhance their employability. With Uganda’s construction sector thriving, the futures of the Top Grafters look incredibly promising.

Completed baskets ready for deployment

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