22 June 2018

Uganda: 16-Year-Old Congolese Refugee Touching Lives in Uganda

Sephora Uzele Murogo was forcibly driven out of Democratic Republic of Congo into Uganda by political unrest in 2015. Together with her mother and siblings, Uzele settled in Nakivale refugee settlement in Isingiro district.

She spoke French, in a community where the majority could only communicate in English and Ugandan dialects. This language barrier meant that the 16-year-old could not join school immediately. She had to learn English before she starting school in Uganda. Refugees in Uganda are entitled to free movement, land to grow food and also access social services like Ugandan citizens.

Uzele took entrepreneurial lessons at a social entrepreneurship hub, Sina Opportunigees. The organisation, started by refugees, supports refugees to gain skills in various sectors. They are taught how to start and run a small business with meagre resources.

Following her training, Uzele started farming, growing vegetables to supplement the food they receive from aid agencies. The harvest was boundless, prompting her to find a market for her produce. The search attracted buyers from as far as Kampala.

"In Nakivale now, I am working with families and we're dealing more in food security. When we came, the food that we were receiving was beans, maize and oil - the ration that is prepared by UN to help the refugees survive. But we found that it's not efficient to cover other months and also like, can't help anyone get balance food [diet]. So I came to support on what we're already receiving." said Uzele.

In 2016, Uzele and a friend started Yes Life Scope, a company that grows vegetables and sells them within the settlement and other communities. Today, their company hires 12 people with whom they work. Yes Life Scope supports more than 20 households within the settlements to grow vegetables.

Uzele explains that they buy the seeds from dealers in Kampala at a wholesale price and lease land from neighbouring communities to grow the crops. Yes-Life-Scope allows refugees to grow crops on leased land for a price depending on how big the piece of land is.

"We support families, we help them with preparations from the seedings to the harvest because we also found out that there's people in need of producing for themselves but they still lack materials like land. Land is actually difficult to get it. We started and we're able to hep them." Uzele added.

These efforts won her the Women 4 Women (youth) award, under a project initiated by several influential women in Uganda, including ambassadors, heads of missions and CEOs with the objective to offer support and recognition to Ugandan women who are committed to change and improve society.

The women were nominated in seven categories that include; Youth, Academics, Business, Human Rights, Civil Society, Sports and Art & Culture.

Radhiyyah K. Lukwiya Namakula, secretary for Women and Youth, Uganda Muslim Supreme Council and one of the judges in the competition says the awards are a way for building confidence in women in the country.

"Women lack confidence terribly, you find a job maybe being advertised, and the woman has 9 out of the 10 qualities that they want; and she is still not confident. And you find a man having three of them but is sure of winning that job. So we want to build confidence and we want these trips for example and the mentoring, we want to expose them to the successful people. They share." said Namakula.

The 21 awarded women won trips abroad and two-week mentoring programs with the partnering embassies in Kampala. Uzele will receive mentoring from Junior Achievement Uganda, a non-profit organization that prepares young people for the global economy through experimental, hands-on learning programs focused on building financial literate behaviours, skills and business acumen.

Uzele says that her nomination and winning in the youth category will help her to help more people.

"I and my partner have been trying to expand our business. I am very excited about my coming mentorship. I hope I will be able to help more refugees grow more food."

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