A place where refugees are welcomed...
Story told by Bryony Spooner
As the situation in South Sudan becomes ever more precarious, and suffers escalating violence, Uganda has become a place with a unique and astonishingly compassionate refugee policy.
Refugees from South Sudan have been arriving in Uganda for years, escaping war and extreme violence. However, on arrival they aren't accommodated in camps, instead they are allocated plots to build houses and agricultural land to grow crops or start businesses. They have the right to work and access to medical services and their children can go to school.
Refugees generally arrive speaking a mixture of Arabic and regional Sudanese languages but they quickly learn English, which is widely used in Uganda along with many regional languages.
That's the good news - the bad news is that they often arrive with little money to live on, after having made the perilous journey to get there. The ever-rising number of refugees is causing pressure on what little infrastructure there is and jobs can be hard to come by in Uganda, for locals as well as new arrivals. Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda's Prime Minister, recently said "We continue to welcome our neighbours in their time of need but we urgently need the international community to assist as the situation is becoming increasingly critical,"
This is where Deki, a small Bristol based Microfinance charity is stepping in. By directly crowdfunding micro loans between £100 and £500 they help refugees start small businesses which they can use to grow and support their family. Since November 2013 Deki have provided over 1,500 loans to people in the region, the majority of whom are widows whose husbands have been killed in the civil war. The oldest Deki entrepreneur being 70-year-old Josephine who is supporting 8 of her 10 grandchildren and has now sent her youngest daughter to University.
Gavin Spittlehouse, a volunteer Deki Fellow, who recently visited the region said ‘Education is highly valued, everybody in the communities I visited aspired to send their children to school. This means not only being able to afford school fees, uniforms and books but also being able to run a business without having the children at home to work. There are many orphans within the refugee community and I found it was very common for a family group to include adopted children, who have lost their own families through war. Some Deki businesses have now grown big enough not only to meet these families’ needs but also offer casual or regular employment to others - this is an essential next step to support the community.’
Deki empowers people to change their own lives so they never need to rely on charity again.