• October 25, 2020

From Refugee to Reformer

On Wednesday, 31st, October 2018 the whole world witnessed a ray of hope when the South Sudanese rebel leader, Dr Riek Machar agreed to sign a peace deal with the government of South Sudan headed by President Salva Kiir. Despite the signing of this deal, the humanitarian conditions remain unpredictable. Ultimately, this has been the case with Modong Jane, a 26-year-old from South Sudan who has been living with a status of a refugee in Uganda since 2001.

Modong arrived in Uganda together with her family when they could not bear the insecurity in their country. After coming in Uganda, they were among the thousands of refugees at that time to be put in a resettlement camp in Kyangwali Resettlement camp in Hoima, Western Uganda. According to her, life was not so favourable for her in the camp because all she could think about is how she misses home. “Every time I was thinking about my friends and relatives who died in the war and looking at how everyone looked miserable” Modong narrates. Lucky for Modong, her mother was enterprising and started operating a local restaurant at the camp to provide for basic needs for a household. “At the camp, we used to receive relief aid once in a month and sometimes it would not be enough. So, there was a need to help the family survive other than waiting for only the government.” She says.

 Even though her mother was trying her best to help the family, Modong and her siblings were not going to school. According to her, this gave her mother sleepless nights to ensure that they get an education for the good of their future. In her story, her mother sought for the change of refugee status from rural to urban. “Since we started living in the camp, I never had the chance to go to school for three years. My story only changed when we came to Kampala, and my mother started operating a restaurant in Ave Maria (a suburb in Nsambya, Makindye Division, Kampala).” Modong adds. It was after moving to Kampala that Modong had the opportunity to go for vocational training at Nsambya Vocational Institute to learn creative arts in tailoring, eating and weaving.

Breakthrough.

After completing her skills training, Modong started making tablecloths for her family when she was 17 years old (in 2007). Little did she know that she had a potential market for her final pieces of work. Her mother advised her to do her knitting and weaving meanwhile she (Modong) helps her to do the restaurant work at the same time. It was from this that some customers would look at what she can do in envy and started asking if she could take their orders for tablecloths. “When my mother told me to do two things at ago, I thought she was punishing me because to me, I felt like she had not appreciated the fact that I was busy playing with threads” she laments. Having done the first orders in 2008, this was the beginning of Modong’s success when people started giving orders at least once a week. Through the hard work, she did not disappoint however had given her an order for pieces of work.

Another breakthrough was when Modong started offering voluntary training services to her fellow refugees in Kampala. She says she understood how it was hard to pay money for anyone to be at school she was once a victim. The first training she offered freely was in 2010 to a group of six refugee girls when were hardly doing anything. It was after this when she was identified by International Rescue Committee Organization who asked her to train a group of women in Nsambya in knitting and crafts weaving. “Looking at my fellow sisters at a miserable condition could always break me down. I decided that I should help them also learn something that could help them. After doing this, boom! An opportunity came knocking my way” She narrates. After this, a series of training events followed Modong’s way and at the moment, she says she has moved to most parts of the country to conduct training and facilitation services. The recent one is when she was hired by Brac Uganda to train girls who are dropping out of school in Amuria district in North Eastern Uganda.

Missing home

It is a common factor that when people spend some time out of their homeland, there is always a feeling of missing home. It is not a different story from Modong who says however much she finds life comfortable in Uganda even when she is a refugee; she still misses home. “Even if it were you, you would feel like you miss home sometimes. But that does not matter to me now” she says. According to her, all she needs is peace and security, a thing she says she has found in Uganda in all her entire time in the country. She all says that however much there are challenges, it is normal to face difficult times, but the fact remains that she has developed the love for Uganda as a country. “The people may sometimes seem bully, but I realise that it is a matter of understanding and my life has not been complicated, I like everything about Uganda.” She adds.

What Others Say

The Refugee Desk Officer (RDO) for Mbarara, Ms Pollyn Abina says government under the Office of the Prime Minister has always been determined to help refugees ever since they started coming to Uganda. For the case of Modong, Ms Abina says what she (Modong) is doing is not only helping her survive, but she is contributing to the development of the economy of Uganda. She also adds that currently, the government is not only giving aid to refugees but has also given an opportunity to access to basic needs such as health, education among others to refugees. “As I speak, in my office I have many refugees who are attending school in Mbarara schools.” She said.

On the other hand, Ms Joy Kideng, who is a Community Based Officer (CBO) at International Rescue Committee (IRC), says they have witnessed many women testify about a change in their livelihoods by the skills they learned from their training, some of which, were facilitated by Modong. “We identified Modong when she was training other girls at Nsambya, and we brought her on board, and she has been of great value not only to refugees but also Ugandans as a whole.” Modong states. IRC is a non-government organisation that is currently empowering women in Uganda (Including refugees) on Savings culture, fighting domestic violence and giving skills to women in craft arts and design.

Many organisations have however come in to raise voices of help and campaigns on the respect of the human rights for refugees, and this year, Media Challenge Initiative (MCI) is conducting a media campaign on Reframing reporting of stories on refugees in Uganda. This campaign has brought together many media practising organisations and students of journalism and media studies from over 20 different Universities and institutions of journalism in Uganda. The Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of MCI, Mr Mpindi Abaas says that the campaign is entailed at changing the style of reporting news stories about refugees. “In most of the reported stories we come across, any story about a refugee is portrayed in such a way that it looks miserable. Everybody deserves a fair price of judgment and by reporting only sad stories about this category of people does not help them to live a cheerful life as human beings.” States Abaas.

According to the report published by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on 31st, March 2018 on their website Relief Web, the total number of South Sudanese people who fled to Uganda to seek refuge had amounted to 1, 053, 598 people.

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