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Arts & crafts training at the Jesuit Refugee Service Urban Refugee center in Kampala, Uganda. (Susi Möller — Jesuit Refugee Service)

By Kuteesa Stephen
JRS Project Director, Kampala, Uganda

(Kampala) April 4, 2011 - As part of a new initiative to help urban refugees become more self-reliant, Jesuit Refugee Service has started a new course: training refugees in the production of arts and handicrafts in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

A pilot group of five refugees participated in the first training and learned how to produce earrings, necklaces, bracelets, bangles, belts, cards, bags and how to do embroidery, using simple and easily available local materials such as paper, wooden beads and fibers.

"This is a great opportunity for us,” said Anastase, a Rwandan refugee who participated in the course. "Instead of providing us with fish, we were taught how to catch the fish and we were provided with the fishing rods. Now I am ready to go fishing myself," he added.

Skills that can be utilized immediately

The arts and crafts training is the latest addition to the skills training program JRS offers for urban refugees and asylum seekers in Kampala. It was introduced following a needs assessment in 2010, during which refugees had expressed the need for such training.  

"As refugees we require training in skills that can be utilized in the situation we are in,” one refugee said during the assessment. “To learn how to produce arts and crafts is one kind of training from which we can benefit because the materials used are easily accessible and the products are marketable," he added. Other courses within the program include catering, hair dressing and tailoring. 

A huge demand

At a meeting with asylum seeker and refugees in January, 106 refugees had submitted their applications for the course. Unlike other courses, the arts and crafts training does not require English proficiency. This gives refugees who are not yet fluent in English an opportunity to gain skills. The majority of the refugees living in Kampala come from the Great Lakes region of Africa and speak French. 

"We encourage you to use your innovation and creativity to expand the skills you acquired here and to produce quality products that can compete in the market," said Stephen Kuteesa JRS Project Director in Kampala, at the end of the course. 

JRS will continue to offer this training to at least 80 urban refugees throughout 2011 to help them integrate and reduce their dependency on aid organizations. 

JRS supports urban refugees in many ways

JRS started assisting refugees in Kampala in 1998. The Urban Emergency Program responds to the urgent unmet needs of new arrivals, asylum seekers and most vulnerable refugees. It helps refugees survive in a situation new to them by providing information, food and non-food items, rent payment, medical assistance, transport and psychosocial support. 

JRS also offers English language lessons and advocates for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. Since its inception in 1998 the project has supported more than 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers with material assistance, advocacy and English lessons. 

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