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Uganda: urban refugees learn skills in arts and crafts

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"As refugees we require training in skills that can be utilised in the situation we are in. 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", one refugee said during the assessment.

Kampala, 14 April 2011 – As part of a new initiative to help urban refugees become more self-reliant, JRS 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 embroider, using simple and easily available local materials such as paper, wooden beads and fibres.

"This is a great opportunity for us. 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", said Anastase, a Rwandan refugee who participated in the course.

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

"As refugees we require training in skills that can be utilised in the situation we are in. 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", one refugee said during the assessment.

Other courses offered by programme include catering, hairdressing and tailoring.

Huge demand

At a meeting with asylum seekers and refugees in January, 106 refugees had submitted their applications for the course. Unlike other courses, arts and crafts training does not require English proficiency. This gives refugees not yet fluent in English an opportunity to gain new skills. The majority of the refugees living in Kampala come from the Great Lakes region 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", JRS Uganda Project Director in Kampala, Stephen Kuteesa, said 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 organisations.

JRS started assisting refugees in Kampala in 1998. The Urban Emergency Programme 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.