How skilling project gives refugees new lease of life

On the left is Ms Vivian Kiden, a beneficiary, at Rhino refugee settlement in Madi-Okollo and Terego in West Nile. on the right is Mr Samuel Mambo, beneficiary of the training. PHOTOS/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Through the training in tourism and hotel management-related fields, the refugees not only acquire hands-on skills they need for the increasingly competitive job market but also give them placements at organisations.

The pilot Prospects Programme, funded by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other donor and United Nations (UN) agencies, has seen nearly 100 refugees given training in tourism and hotel management.
The trainees say, they see a total transformation of their fate.
Jackson Avenue in Jinja City can pass for bad gravel on old tarmac. It also looks like dilapidated tarmac that has badly exposed the gravel beneath to potholes. Whichever way you look at it, the road is devoid of life. Yet the spectacle of this particular lunch hour speaks of the epitome of life.
A couple. Their arms hold fast around each other’s waist as they are ensconced in a world that seems lost from the reality of the terrible state of the surface they are sashaying on.

Their uniform gives them away. The brown trouser and skirt, and three-piece atop white shirts are designed to say so much about what profession they are in—leisure and hospitality. And Jackson Avenue being an arc that runs a ring around the Crested Crane Hotel, breaking off from one part of the Nalufenya Road (Kampala Road) to another end of the same, it is the surest bet where the lovey-dovey couple was coming from.
Even the worst addict in the punter’s world would never have tinkered with the idea that the sweethearts were refugees. But they are. Doubly so, among the scores of refugees who are getting the rarest of a chance at life with skilling training at the Uganda Hotel and Tourism Training Institute (UHTTI) in Jinja City.

Theirs is part of an apprenticeship pilot scheme through which development agencies are supporting the skilling of refugees at the Crested Crane Hotel-based institute. Through the training in tourism and hotel management-related fields, the refugees not only acquire hands-on skills they need for the increasingly competitive job market but also give them placements at organisations.
Hope springs eternal
Ms Vivian Kiden spent time in Rhino refugee settlement, a camp in Madi-Okollo and Terego in West Nile and hope seemed to be a mirage for the 27-year-old.
From a settled life down in Yei in the south-west of South Sudan, fate brought her to Rhino Refugee Camp in Isingiro District where she stared down the abyss thinking it was all over for her.
“I felt I had hit rock bottom, and for more than five years, I spent time in the camp doing nothing but idling around,” she said, before thanking the ILO for giving her skilIs that have ensured “I … can afford a smile again.”
The mother of two, who lost her husband in the war that pitted South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir, is among the 95 hotel management apprentices undergoing skills training at UHTTI under the Prospects Partnership programme.

The programme seeks to improve life prospects for forcibly displaced persons and host communities.
“UHTTI is implementing the national apprenticeship programme. We were chosen as the model institution to offer hospitality training to the apprentices and because we have done tremendous work, we have been given another contract of four years,” Mr Moses Kaneene, the UHTTI deputy principal, said.
He further revealed that the first cohort started training in January and will be passed out on January 16, 2023, adding that their enrolment at UHTTI followed a two-year delay as training institutions and colleges were closed as part of the pandemic curbs.
“We were supposed to graduate them with the rest of the students in December, but because of Covid-related challenges, they are just sitting their exams and will be passed out next month,” Mr Kaneene said.

Meticulous process
The beneficiaries are fully cleared by the Office of the Prime Minister and equipped with everything they need to stay and work in Uganda.
“They are offered full sponsorship, including tuition, accommodation, meals and also possess the refugee pass and work permits to enable them fit in Uganda’s tourism industry,” Mr Kaneene said. 
Mr Samuel Mambo, another beneficiary, says he wants to use the skills to transform the lives of fellow refugees in the camps.
“I have sacrifised my ILO allowances to buy an oven, which I will use to teach bakery and pastry skills to fellow youth who are still in the camps,” Mr Mambo told Saturday Monitor.

He added that his focus will be single mothers. “There is too much boredom in the camps. Girls resort to marriages, which do not last, while boys resort to alcoholism and drug abuse. I feel it is my duty to help out these groups,” Mr Mambo said.
He added that his speciality in food production is because of the ready market in South Sudan.
“Most of the hotels in South Sudan are being run by Kenyans. I feel that with this training, we can go back home and change this trend,” Mr Mambo said.
He castigated the war in South Sudan that—seen through his lens—was a result of greed among the political elite.
Bigger dreams

Mr Stephen Opio, the chief technical advisor at ILO Prospects Uganda, said ILO is investing in this pilot apprenticeship scheme because it offers enormous opportunities for school-to-work transition. He added that it also offers employers the opportunity to participate in training the workforce they desire.
“The apprentices spend 30 percent of their time at the training college and 70 percent in the hotels undergoing workplace training under the supervision of trained trainers guided by the curriculum developed with the support of the ILO,” Mr Opio said.
He said the apprentices benefit from learning practical skills and receive a stipend that helps them meet their personal needs.

“The programme does not only benefit the refugees, but also benefits the young people in the host communities and is in line with the Sustainable Development goals principles of leaving no one behind,” Mr Opio revealed.
He said the beauty of apprenticeship programmes is that they are demand-based and offer a practical solution to address skills mismatch in the labour market that can impede trained youth in transitioning into productive employment.
“The government is revitalising apprenticeships to complement other skills development approaches. The government is committed to implementing apprenticeships as it offers a window of opportunity for these young people to acquire marketable skills while also earning a livelihood,” said Mr Henry Mutebe, the apprenticeship and graduate volunteer coordinator at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.
The apprentices, according to UHTTI principal Miriam Namutosi, undertook training in four occupations—food production, front office, food and beverages services as well as housekeeping and laundry.

“This pilot programme is inclusive, involving 71 refugees and 24 host community youth and two persons with disabilities,” Ms Namutosi said of the all-male cast. She commended the ILO for supporting the programme. 
“This is the first of its kind for the hotels. It has created a lot of excitement and goodwill from our members. We will certainly be honoured to continue the programme on a much bigger scale next year,” Ms Namutosi said.

Vulnerable no more
Ms Jean Byamugisha, the executive director of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA), commended ILO for its tireless effort in transforming the lives of refugees and host communities through hotel training.
“It is an honour to see the transformation in the faces of the apprentices a year after they enrolled for the programme. I am sure that after completing the first phase of college-based training, these apprentices are now ready for the on-the-job training in different hotels across the country,” Ms Byamugisha said.
“I remember when we interviewed them in the refugee settlements in 2020, they resembled the very definition of ‘vulnerable’ persons. One year later, after training at UHTTI, their faces are fuller and brighter and more hopeful, full of life, full of dreams and full of love,” she added.