Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Life in a refugee settlement

Two weeks of my deployment I spend in the refugee settlement Rwamwanja in Western Uganda.

Welcome to Rwamanja (photo credit Janika Tamm)
Rwamwanja settlement was established in 1964 to host refugees from Rwanda but closed in 1995 when many repatriated. The settlement was reopened in 2012 to host refugees fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo due to violence in North and South Kivu. The settlement is hosting 71.707 refugees at the moment but is not receiving new arrivals.

Dusty town center of Rwamwanja
At first glance, Rwamanja looks like any other town in Uganda. Hairdresser, mechanics and hardware stores offer their services and products along the road. Food stalls sell Rolex, beans, pocho and chapati.
People look the same. They wear jeans and shorts, skirts, dresses and jackets like any other person from Uganda.
I notice a difference in the languages spoken, but cannot differentiate if it is the local language Runyankole, one of the Congolese languages Kinyabwisha or Swahili.

It is dusty and hot. But Rwamwanja is 1.288 m above sea level and the nights are nice and cool.

In the center of attention

The first week I stay at the Kiyombo"Resort", at the far end of Rwamwanja. It is okay, but the nights sometimes are loud, electricity is scarce, and the rooms could see a brush more often. The bathroom is improvised. By accident, I find a secret condom reservoir and I don't want to know the true purpose of the resort.
Food is every day the same and after the third day, I am getting tired of rolex breakfast already.

View from LWF guesthouse
But I am lucky. After 5 days I get to move closer to the main offices into a nice guesthouse run by LWF.
Here it is quieter, I have two lovely Japanese ladies living next to me. We are the only white people staying inside the settlement. Western officials normally prefer to stay in distant Kyenjojo or Kamwenge and use nice air-conditioned 4x4 cars to do the one hour commute to the settlement.

I like to be close to the people, however, I do feel intimidated by all the attention I get here in the settlement. But the Japanese, who have been here already for a while, take me by the hand and show me where to eat, shop and how to get around. And I feel more comfortable sharing the attention.

The downside: Getting food here is a bit more complicated. In contrast to the resort, breakfast isn't provided here and the guesthouse does not have a restaurant attached. There are only a few shops around and hence my diet mainly consists of bananas, warm coca cola and mandasi.

Piloting digital competencies 

I am in the settlement on behalf of Mondo, working with Finn Church Aid who is responsible for the education cluster within the settlement. 

Vocational Training Center run by FCA (photo credit Janika Tamm)
Mondo has developed a Digital Competencies Program which is currently piloted in Jordan, Syria, and Uganda. It targets refugees and aims to provide applicable digital skills to solve everyday problems.  Given this is the 21st century and technology is driving the future of work, digital literacy is a necessary criterion for participation in the 4th industrial revolution.

My task is to do a brief evaluation and get some feedback about the program from students and teachers.

The pilot started in August 2019 and roughly 250 students of a vocational training center were meant to learn everything about google tools, smartphone photography, building websites as well as data privacy and internet security in a very interactive way.

Early morning in the training center (photo credit Janika Tamm)
Teaching IT skills is generally not an easy undertaking in Uganda, which is still backward in terms of technology. (Read my article "Working with ICT in Uganda" to learn more about the challenges). And it does not get any easier in a remote refugee settlement.

  • Students speak many different languages such as French, Runyankole, Kinyabwisha, Swahili and sometimes a little English. Teachers have to make sure, every single student is able to follow and translators are needed to cover the various languages.
  • As a principle, the vocational training center does not exclude illiterate people, to give even those a chance who have failed academic education. But it requires additional time and sure instinct of the teachers.
  • Thanks to a solid solar system power is stable, but internet is rare. In a program that requires access to google and several online services, the lack of internet is a real drawback.
  • Education in Uganda is rather confrontational. It is a challenge for teachers to adapt to a more interactive style and it needs a lot of discipline not to revert to old methods and material.
In the two weeks in Rwamwanja I hear and see a lot. Things don't run smoothly, but that's why we do pilots. With some adaptions, the program has great potential. The teachers are motivated and the students eager to know everything about the world wide web and its possibilities. The findings will help to improve the performance of a full-scale project.

If we teach today what we taught yesterday, we rob the children of tomorrow.

Personally, I also learn a lot here during these two weeks: about refugee policies, the power of education, refugee settlements, resilience, development aid, living with very limited resources and the rural side of Uganda.

Rwamwanja in Western Uganda. (photo credit UNHCR)

The first day in Rwamwanja. Assistant ICT-Teacher Grace is giving a tour at the vocational training center.
Fellow EUAV Volunteer Ana joined for two days. (photo credit Janika Tamm)
In Uganda, you can't walk far without being surrounded by children

Well in the settlement 
4 days without running water. The jerry can provides water to shower, drink and flush the toilet
Beautiful setting 

To learn more about the refugee situation in Uganda, please follow below links: