South Sudanese Refugees in Kampala Learn How to Make a Living

South Sudanese urban refugees living in Kampala, Uganda, say they are learning new skills so they can fend for themselves and their families amid worsening financial conditions back home.

Loved ones in South Sudan stopped sending financial support for school fees, rent and other expenses years ago, shortly after the conflict between government and opposition forces erupted in late 2013.

Isidoro Magda, a widow who fled South Sudan three years ago, becomes sad when she thinks of how things were when she made her way to Kampala. She could not find a way to feed or clothe her children, nor could she pay rent or school fees.

Then a friend told her about the American-funded Refuge and Hope International Vocational School where she learned how to sew.

The 32-year-old widow said she enrolled in sewing classes immediately, and for the next 18 months constructed dresses and women’s clothing. Magda proudly declares that she has been financially independent for some time.

“They have given me a machine to start with,” she said, “so I went home with my machine. I started making clothes. I make clothes, [I get] money, I go and buy food, feed my children.”

Magda said as her small business grew, she decided to rent a shop in the Kampala suburb of Kisugu. She now has two sewing machines and displays some of her dresses, skirts and other handmade items in her shop windows.

“The shop is not big because I do not have money to buy many things there, but I thank God,” said Magda. “Before I opened, I don’t have these things, but now I think I have some clothes in my shop.”

Although business has slowed in recent weeks, Magda said she is grateful for whatever work she gets and remains hopeful that business will pick up soon.

“These days, you know, there is no money,” she told South Sudan in Focus. “And sometimes, people bring to me just to repair clothes; that’s every day you will get something for repairing clothes. But now everyone is crying because of money. So this week, I have, like, two clothes only.”

Magda said enrolling at the Refuge and Hope International Vocational School changed her life as a refugee because she no longer has to struggle to make ends meet in Uganda.

The mother of three is urging fellow South Sudanese refugee women to stop depending on handouts and start learning skills that would enable them to become self-reliant.

“If life is difficult, you have to struggle and look for something to do,” Magda said, adding, “you are not supposed to just sit down and wait for someone to give it to you.”

Magda said she is proud that she can feed and clothe her children and send them to school without relying on anyone else.

“Now I feel my life is better than the last time because in the beginning, I [was] just sitting. I didn’t know what to do. But now, I am thinking I want to make something to do ahead,” Magda said.