|Uganda: Urban refugees face special challenges|
(Washington, D.C.) February 29, 2016 – Despite popular believe that most refugees are confined in rural settlement camps, the reality is that more than half the world’s displaced people live in cities. And for many urban refugees far from home, the experience can be frightening, as they’re often cut-off from family and support networks, have little or no resources and lack the jobs skills to make ends meet. Fr. Kevin White, S.J., director of Jesuit Refugee Service in Uganda, knows this all too well. Based in the country’s bustling capital, Kampala, he oversees educational and vocational programs that provide refugees there the tools, skills and resources needed to help them navigate city life and become more self-sufficient. “These people are heavily traumatized, left everything behind, and they just need a sympathetic ear and a presence with people who can recognize their dignity,” Fr. White told Jesuit Refugee Service/USA during a visit to Washington, D.C. earlier this year. “And so we do that, and I think we do that well.” Because of Uganda’s unusually liberal policies toward non-citizens, refugees are allowed to legally work in the country. “I suspect Uganda is so generous toward refugees because they have suffered recently in their past, so they know what it’s like to be a refugee, Fr. White said. JRS in Kampala offers comprehensive educational and vocational training to help refugees learn skills needed to find and secure a job. “It’s an effort to allow our beneficiaries who come to Kampala to take care of themselves and their families and have a skill so that they can find employment within Kampala,” Fr. White said. Last year more than 280 refugees participated in one of the vocational program’s five areas: arts and crafts, catering, carpentry, tailoring and fashion design, and hairdressing. The courses not only provide critical training but also foster a sense of community and belonging among the participants. “There’s a real nice spirit among our beneficiaries who spend some time in our vocational training programs,” Fr. White said. “It might be too strong to say it’s like a ‘family’ but there certainly is a comfort level and it’s a home away from home at our compound.” Among the greatest needs for refugees hoping to live abroad is English language training. To help, JRS offers an extensive English language program for more than 250 students. “There is a great desire of many of our countries is to be resettled to Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and English would be a big help for them,” Fr. White said. “It strengthens their ability to adapt to their new communities, especially in the event they are resettled so that they no longer will be dependent entirely on their host countries. It’s another way that we’re working for justice that we give these people the skills they need so that they can sustain themselves and take care of themselves.” Computer training courses also are popular at the JRS Kampala compound. “We know English is important, but so is the new language that is required — computer literacy,” Fr. White said. “So we’ll be moving to that area more fully.” And while new arrivals in Kampala often must wait several months to secure official refugee status, JRS in the meantime offers emergency support, such food rations, help paying rent and minor medical care such as prescriptions and eyeglasses. Fr. White also spoke about JRS’s new Global Education Initiative, the need for accompaniment and what North Americans can do to help refugees in East Africa.(Listen to audio of the complete interview below).
Part of that too is prayer. There’s a faith community. We gather for worship — all are welcome – once a month. We have celebrations. Through some generous donors we’re able to mark World Refugee Day, or World Women’s Day. All of these things are extracurricular activities, they’re not a skill that we’re imparting, they’re not an emergency food ration that we’re giving, we’re not advocating for a strengthening of refugee protection in neighboring countries. But they are really important times to come together to animate that core principle of JRS, which is accompaniment.Q: Anything else you would like to talk about? nbsp;FW: Just a word of gratitude for the great work that JRS North America region is doing. A great expression of gratitude to our donors who continue to give generously so that we can continue to do the work we do on the front line. I know that not everyone is able to be in Kampala to work with refugees on the front line. But by your prayers and your gifts you are as much a part of the work in Kampala or any other region of JRS in making this work of the Society of Jesus come to life and make a difference in the world. We do make a difference. Sometimes we do get discouraged with all the challenges that we are facing. But I’m here to say that the work is going on, and it’s going well. You can support the work of JRS in Kampala and around the world. Click here to make a secure online donation today.
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