Uganda: Giving a shoulder to lean on and a comforting hand
28 February 2014

Some students of the JRS Kampala Hair Dressing class showcase the skills they have acquired during a graduation ceremony in December 2013. The JRS Kampala Project offers vocational skills training to urban refugees living in the capital city of Uganda. (Aaron Bizuli Hengwa/JRS)
Marie had wanted to drop out of her studies in the middle of the course because of family problems.

Kampala, 28 February 2014 - Many of the students that join the JRS Kampala vocational training classes bear many emotional scars that need to be delicately healed. The accompaniment of such students continues even after they have finished their studies. Such was the case of Marie*, a student of the JRS hairdressing class last year who had joined this course on 8th April 2013. Marie, who is 28 years old and married with three children, had fled to Uganda from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2011.

Marie had wanted to drop out of her studies in the middle of the course because of family problems. She used to stay with her husband and three children at her mother-in-law’s house. Marie’s first born, a 13 year old girl, had been born out of wedlock. Since the day she had started to live with her in-laws, they mistreated Marie and her daughter. They tried to chase her away accusing her of being a prostitute and never wanted the ‘foreign’ child in the family. When I asked her who the father of the girl was she revealed that, “I was raped by the army in Congo so I don’t know the father.”That is how Marie came to Uganda, where she met a man and got married.

I want to stop my studies. She told me that, “Madam, I am stopping my studies. I am going to run away from home and hide myself with my children.” But Marie’s case was complicated because two of her children, a girl and a boy, had been borne with the husband. I sat Marie down advising her that this is not the solution. “Just bear with the situation, with time you will overcome it”, urging her to continue with her studies and heed my advice.

Marie finally completed the course and graduated on 18th December 2013. Immediately after internship, she got a job which helps her now in her daily life taking care of food, house rent and school fees for the children. The job enabled her to shift from the in-laws’ home to her own place with the husband and three children. The husband is caring and before they were jobless but now they are all working. They now can look after the family.

In January she came to see me in the office and said, “Madam, I thank you for your advice and for helping me. There is nothing I can give you, but only God can pay you.”

But her in-laws are still mistreating her whenever they meet, telling the husband that he should stop her from working because she is coming late from work. The in-laws feed her husband with lies telling him that she is from somewhere else and not from work. Fortunately the husband knows where she works and the time she is supposed to come home. The husband has no problem with the wife for the man knows the truth.

Forget the past and look into the future. As we were talking Marie sadly told me that, “Madam I feel unclean to my husband because of what had happened to me years before I got married. I feel dirty even after putting on make-up or good clothes. I feel unclean, ashamed in front of my husband. When I recall what happened my tears flow”..

I advised her to forget the past and see herself as born again child in her life and leave the past because God loves her and she will never be a loser. “Just know people love you the way you are. You are beautiful and even your husband loves you because he loved you with your daughter even after knowing what had happened. So just be free and say you are clean and pray. God knows why you remain alive up to now. You can now get food and drink while other people cannot.”

She appreciated my advice saying, “Now I feel happy and my mind is clean”. I then told Marie, “That is good. I feel happy when you are happy. When you are not happy I cannot be happy because you are my student and I am your teacher.”

At JRS accompaniment is a continuous journey along the path of recovery with our beneficiaries as they try to get their lives back on track and keep hope alive.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

By Winfred Nyiranzirorera, JRS Kampala Hairdressing Instructor

JRS has been working in Kampala since 1998, responding to the urgent, unmet needs of newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees in vulnerable circumstances. For refugees fleeing conflict, civil unrest or oppressive political circumstances, the JRS Urban Emergency Programme provides information, food and non-food items, rent and medical assistance, transport and psychosocial support. JRS also offers English language lessons and vocational training courses to increase opportunities to earn a living and support themselves. In addition, JRS advocates for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.