RELIEFWEB 10 MAR 2020
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries at Don Bosco Palabek, within the Palabek Refugee Settlement in Uganda, are providing much needed psycho-social support and pastoral care for thousands of Christian residents. They also operate four nursery schools that educated 743 students in 2019 with 222 graduating at the end of the year. Currently, there are 521 students in the four kindergartens. Salesian missionaries also started the Child Sponsorship program in 2019 with 63 refugee students, providing the financial support for them to attend primary, secondary and vocational schools.
Uganda has become home for more than 1.3 million refugees—82 percent of whom are women and children—in the wake of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
Millions have fled South Sudan and nearly 400,000 have died as a result of armed clashes. Many of those who have fled to Uganda have taken refuge at the Palabek Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda.
According to UNHCR, Palabek is currently home to nearly 46,000 refugees and asylum seekers. It was officially set up in April 2016 to reduce congestion in larger refugee camps in the northwestern corner of Uganda. Several agencies are involved in providing food and education within Palabek.
Helping to ensure refugees are learning skills for employment, Salesian missionaries also operate a vocational training center to offer life skills and other training. Depending on the discipline, some courses run for 3-6 months while others run as long as a year. Salesian missionaries have also set up a job placement office that helps students make contact with companies that are hiring, prepare resumes and prep for interviews, and find internships and on-site training opportunities.
The vocational training center educated 230 students in 2019 with 193 students completing their courses and graduating by the end of the year. Young women graduated from courses in tailoring and salon services such as hairdressing. Young men studied automobile mechanics, motorcycle repair training and solar installation. Agriculture classes are also taught to all students no matter their primary area of study.
To further ensure refugees can earn a living, Salesian missionaries are helping refugees with saving and lending with 20 village savings groups and eight farmers groups that were provided seeds and farm tools within the settlement. Men, women and youth are engaged in the village savings groups.
Through savings meetings, key issues like gender-based violence prevention, business strategy, farming and nutrition, and other topics were discussed. Most of the members have appreciated the approach because they are able to share important information with each other for the benefit of individuals, their families and the community at large. Through the group formation and interventions at the zone level (neighborhoods) of the settlement, there is peace.
“Salesian missionaries are working to ensure that refugees at Palabek have an opportunity for education during their time in the camp,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Refugees have left behind nearly everything they had to protect themselves and their families.
Being able to offer them support and education helps them to prepare for the future and build connections in their new community.”
Nearly 21 percent of the population in Uganda lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. This number rises to 33 percent for those living in the northern region where poverty is greatest. While the country has seen some economic growth as well as improvement in its UN Human Development Index ranking over the last 20 years, the country still ranks near the bottom at 159 out of 189 countries. After decades of war left many displaced, the people of Uganda face many significant challenges as they work to rebuild their country.
Uganda’s literacy rate has improved with 73 percent of the population literate, but only 23 percent of Ugandans go on to acquire a secondary education. According to UNICEF, one of the biggest challenges in the country is combating the serious increase of HIV/AIDS that has left millions of children orphaned.