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Finding a future in South Africa

Children sleep in alternating positions in the Pretoria daycare center run by refugees. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Monday, May 23, 2011

(Pretoria) May 23, 2010 — The Income Generating Activities office of Jesuit Refugee Service South Africa helps refugees by providing small business grants, vocational skills training and assistance with transferring educational qualifications from the refugee's country of origin to the South African system. JRS is also compiling a database of refugee resumes to assist in job-seeking.

"Our main focus is to ensure that our clients — refugees and asylum-seekers — become self-reliant and independent, and integrate into the local communities," said Kanabo Skhosana, Income Generating Activities Coordinator for the Jesuit Refugee Service South Africa country office.

Stephanie, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has opened a successful daycare center in the downtown core of the South African capital. 

Stephanie, in her own words: 

"I came to South Africa in 2000 because of the insecurity in my country, all the wars. The Catholic Church in DRC was organizing trucks and boats to move people because it was terrible at that time."

"When I came to South Africa, the truck that took my children and I from Zambia was a different one than took my husband, he wound up in Malawi. So when I came here I was like a single mother with four children to care for."

"JRS really assisted me. They provided accommodation and food for six months, and relieving that burden [of being homeless and without food for her family] helped me to begin to integrate into the local community. Whenever I was sick, JRS was able to refer me to a local hospital. At the time I did not know English, and dealing with Home Affairs [the South African Immigration office] was difficult. JRS would help me to find a lawyer to help me with Home Affairs. And the lawyers also found my husband in Malawi and were able to get him to South Africa. That was a big impact from JRS."

"The struggle that we went through in 2001/2002 was very hard. We were working as volunteers at Women's Hope Center. Our children were in creches (daycare centers), but we had to change about four or five times because the fees were very high. Then we approached UNHCR and asked, 'Why can't we open one for refugees?'"

"Finally, in 2006, when I was working as an office cleaner, someone from the National Consortium for Refugee Affairs said she thought if would be a good idea to open the creche. Other refugees in Durban had opened a daycare, and she suggested I go see what they were doing and to learn how they were doing it."

"When I came back, I started with Social Development classes. Then JRS helped us start the daycare. I approached JRS and said I wanted to start a business, but I don't have money. UNHCR and JRS each gave us some, we combined it and were able to get this space."

"When we first opened we said it would be strictly refugee kids. When we started we had four kids, my family members. They were the first I approached in the Congolese community. Then little by little the parents told others, and that's how we found ourselves with a huge demand. And we've expanded our space; originally it was just one side of this floor [of an office building], and now it is the entire floor. We care for 200 children now."

"I want to say thank you to JRS, and to continue to do for others. Now we are 15 women in this business, we no longer have to receive help from JRS because we are self-reliant now. 

Stephanie looks in on her charges during nap-time at the daycare center in Pretoria last week. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)