Aron is one of the refugees in Uganda that DRC has assisted before and during the Covid-19 crisis.

Refugees in Uganda still receive assistance during Covid-19

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, DRC continues to actively support refugees and their host communities in Uganda, identifying persons of concern and furnishing them with critical assistance to ensure they’re able to safely cope with the pandemic and its associated restrictions. Four refugees share their stories.

Saverina’s Story

Saverina lives alone in the Kyaka II refugee settlement in Uganda, where she arrived in early 2018. She’s 73 years old and suffers from declining sight and hearing, but her positive attitude is undiminished: “I am grateful for every day I am still alive,” she says.

In mid-2019, DRC offered to construct an improved shelter for Saverina, as her emergency shelter had been damaged and was leaking. Given a choice of how to organize the process, she decided to receive construction materials procured and supplied by DRC, but manage the construction and negotiate labour costs herself.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown, DRC continues to work with Saverina, and the three masons Saverina hired are careful to maintain social distancing when they come to work. Saverina supervises from afar, excited to see the daily progress. The construction is almost complete and she cannot wait to see it finished!

In fact, she has already tried out her new shelter: “I slept in the new house last night because my current shelter leaks,” Saverina said. Despite the pandemic, the continued assistance from DRC means that Saverina will be safe and dry in her new home in less than a month.

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Saverina on the threshold of her new home.

Aron’s Story

Aron, 66, has a similar story. He arrived in Kyaka II around the same time as Saverina and also lives all alone in a damaged, leaking emergency shelter. As a person with specific needs, he was offered DRC assistance with shelter and multipurpose cash assistance in mid-2019. Aron chose to find and manage the construction labour on his own, with DRC supplying the materials.

Despite the difficulties and restrictions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, DRC maintains its commitment to the project, and Aron will be able to move into his new home at the end of May 2020—he can barely wait.

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Aron besides his old shelter and in front of his new home.

Mawazo’s Story

Mawazo, 61, arrived in Kyaka II at the end of 2018 and, like Saverina and Aron, is a person with specific needs who is living alone in an emergency shelter. In late 2019, DRC offered her an improved shelter and multipurpose cash assistance. Unlike Saverina and Aron, however, Mawazo opted to manage the entire process on her own, receiving a cash payment and procuring builders and materials entirely on her own.

She says handling the process on her own gives her flexibility: she knows how to make bricks herself, and can negotiate with vendors for other materials as needed.

She plans to use the savings to buy a cow and plan for a better future.

Mawazo’s new home also incorporates elements of her existing emergency shelter, so every day her housing situation improves as construction progresses. Thanks to this, the cold nights and rain are no longer a problem for her. Despite the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 situation, DRC continues to provide cash assistance for Mawazo’s construction, and hopes to see her move in fully as soon as possible.

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Mawazo in front of her new home under construction.

Muragi’s Story

Muragi, 70, also lives in Kyaka II, and has been here for 14 years. He lives by himself and is considered one of the settlement’s extremely vulnerable persons in need of support. Though he’s been here for many years, his housing situation has been unstable, and he lived with friends until moving to an emergency shelter two years ago. He receives nutritional support from the World Food Program, and his grandson, whom Muragi sometimes supports financially, visits him from time to time.

DRC was able to identify Muragi as a person with specific needs (PSN), and our support relationship with him began when we constructed a latrine in his compound back in 2018.

A new multipurpose cash assistance project began in 2019, and though, like many new projects, it focused on new arrivals, a small number of ‘old caseload’ refugees were also taken into consideration. This is important, as longer-term residents like Muragi may otherwise be overlooked, despite their extreme vulnerability and continuing need of support.

In the end, Muragi was able to enroll in the multipurpose cash assistance program. This alleviated his dependence on borrowing money from his son, and increased his resilience in coping with the irregular nature of the casual work he normally does in the settlement. Particularly during the Covid-19 lockdown, cash assistance has become even more critical as the availability of casual employment has become very limited.

The multipurpose cash support, says Muragi, has not only improved his resilience, but also his access to health services, better clothing, and better food. It has also enabled him to join a savings scheme, which makes him feel more financially secure.

According to Muragi, “I joined a savings group called Shika Jembe when I was enrolled [in multipurpose cash assistance]. Saving is very important for me. Even when you [DRC] stop, and even if WFP further cuts the ration, I will do my best to try and stay in the savings scheme. I am getting older and weaker. The savings, if it accrues interest, I will use to buy chickens and maybe a goat.”

Today, Muragi receives the multipurpose cash assistance every month, and the next installment will be on its way next week!

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Muragi in his compound.

Staying Safe while Providing Support

When providing monthly multipurpose cash assistance, DRC’s distribution methods are aligned with WFP protocols and informed by Ugandan Ministry of Health guidelines on Covid-19, under advisement from the Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda.

During a distribution, social distancing is observed and DRC staff wear protective gear, including gloves, throughout the cash distribution process. Consequently, biometric verification of the recipients by WFP has been suspended. DRC has stopped issuing beneficiary cards and requiring payment acknowledgement through signature or thumbprint. If the beneficiaries have mobile money accounts, they receive their cash support digitally.

Under this project, 275 extremely vulnerable persons of concern in Kyaka II are receiving multipurpose cash and shelter construction assistance. Overall, 1,695 households of persons with specific needs (PSNs) in the settlement are benefiting from multipurpose cash support, which was made possible with funding from European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid.