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Ambitious urban refugees
– by Gloria Laker Aciro Adiiki
Over 1 million people live in refugee camps in Uganda, but another 100,000 struggle to survive with hardly any aid in urban areas. Some young urban refugees fail to cope and end up joining gangs.
Others, however, manage to find a legitimate livelihood. Bridget Pitia is a 27-year-old South Sudanese refugee. She says she knows how to make ends meet in an urban environment. With advanced-level education in psychology, she secured a part-time job with the Save the Children Fund. “I am taking on early childhood development for children,” Pitia says. She also sells bananas. “I spend the profit on my basic needs.”
Pitia was orphaned at a very young age. She later had to flee from her home in South Sudan.
“My uncle was a rebel. When government forces realise that you are related to such people, they will not leave you alone,” she explains. “That is why I escaped to Uganda.”
Ali Akhmed, a Somali refugee living in Kampala’s congested Kisenyi slum has started a small fashion jewellery shop in her neighbourhood. She is also pursuing an undergraduate course. “I was motivated to run this business by friends at university, who would admire every simple piece of jewellery I wore,” the young woman recounts. “I realised there was demand for these items.”
Akhmed buys her fashion jewellery from Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern importers in downtown Kampala. She claims that young customers are letting her business grow.
“My shop is close to Owino market, known for low-cost quality cloth, which campus girls frequent. So they cross over to my shop and buy matching jewellery,” Akhmed explains.
When Akhmed is attending lectures, her young sister runs the business. The profit covers her family’s rent, food and transportation costs.
Gloria Laker Aciro is a writer and former war and peace reporter, now heading the Peace Journalism Foundation of East Africa. She lives in Uganda.