Apprenticeship programme equips Congolese refugees in Uganda with vocation skills

An apprentice programme by the Danish Refugee Council in Uganda is equipping vulnerable young Congolese in Kyaka II refugee settlement in south western Uganda with vocations skills to enhance their self- reliance.


Funded by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM), the apprenticeship is skilling refugees and young Ugandans from the host community through placement in a six- month mentoring programme to learn carpentry and joinery, hair dressing, motorcycle repair and handicrafts.

The youth are trained by refugee mentors who over the years have demonstrated skill in running small business reliant on their vocations skills.

A DRC assessment conducted in March 2017 found that on average only 15% of refugee youth in Uganda advance to secondary schools.

”The youth cannot afford the cost of education. The other thing is that many of them do not have the qualifications needed to join formal vocational schools like Bujubuli [a local vocational school in the settlement] which is why we are using the informal, practical-based training approach to skill them,” said Fred Kintu, DRC’s Livelihoods Officer at Kyaka II.

Currently 70 Congolese and 30 Ugandan nationals are enrolled in the apprenticeship programme. The youth expressed interest in acquiring vocational skills in areas of their choice, and were chosen through a competitive process. They attend mentoring sessions for seven hours a day for every weekday.

Under the verandah of a mud and wattle house in Sweswe, one of the zones that make up the 81.5 km² Kyaka II refugee settlement, Virginia Furaha Bisoma, a handicraft mentor, is hard at work with her three mentees.

”I am teaching them how to cut a sponge, sew and fix it inside the bags that we are making,” said Virginia Furaha Bisoma who has lived in Kyaka II for more than a decade.

On a string attached to poles that support the thatch roof of the house dangle bright coloured products, the handiwork of Bisoma and her students.

”After the six months, I will have learnt everything,” said Nura Issa, 23. ”I will get my own materials and start my business. I am learning skills that will be helpful to me in the future,” added the 23- year old.

A few kilometers away from the knitting of the handicraft apprentices, in Mukundo, another zone in Kyaka II, Aron Bakiza is taking his tailoring students on how to measure and cut pieces of cloth. ”I have been doing tailoring since I was 15,” said Bakiza who is in his late 40’s.

”I have five sewing machines which I use for training my four students,” he said. ”My students now know how to use a sewing machine very well. Some of them can even make skirts and blouses ”can you show our visitors what you have made?” Two of the apprentices’ pull out pieces of clothing they have made ”Good,” remarks Bakiza. 

Since December last year, the population of Kyaka II has increased from 27,000 to 33,000, a number still on the rise, due to more refugees fleeing violence from the Congo into Uganda.

Motorcycle taxis commonly known as ”Boda-Boda” are a common means of transportation within the refugee settlement and to neighbouring trading centres and markets.

Hangi Nsengiyunva, 33, is a mechanic who runs a workshop and motorcycle repair shop in Kyaka. ”It is this business that supports my family. It pays my children to school,” he said.

Nsengyunva came to Uganda from Congo 12 years ago and is mentoring two youth in motorcycle repair.  Amani Dieudonne, 20, is one of them. At the workshop I found Nsengyunva assessing the damage on a motorcycle whose rider had had a nasty accident with another rider on the dusty streets of Kyaka only a day before.

”You will need a new exhaust pipe,” Nsengyunva told the rider who still had swollen cheeks, lips and a bruised face. ”You will need new breaks. Also new mirrors.”

Amani Diedonne, the mentee, watched keenly as his mentor assessed and billed for repair works on the damaged motorcycle.

”The apprentices are learning the dynamics of the market. By the time they complete the six months they will have understood the market situation and even got clients,” observed Patrick Okello, a DRC livelihood staff in Kyaka. ”The skills the youth learn will be an important source of livelihood for the youth.”