Refugee Stella: Now I have got the knowledge, skills


January 25, 2018

By Richard M Kavuma

When I first come across Stella Kiden Amosa at the end of November 2017, she is explaining to visitors how her group makes briquettes using local materials.

“We get waste materials such as maize cob, sawdust, groundnut husks or simsim husks, and we carbonize them,” says Stella, one of 20 women in the Fanya Kazi Group in Zone 3 of Palorinya refugee settlement in Moyo district of northwestern Uganda. “We then crush them and add other things like clay soil, molasses and we put in that machine called 12-piston, which produces the briquettes.”

A lean woman with a dispassionate but welcoming face, Stella is one of the beneficiaries of the IOM Uganda project titled Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Service Delivery for South Sudanese Refugees and Host Community. The project, in both Yumbe and Moyo districts, is funded by European Union Humanitarian Aid to the tune of 2 million Euros.

Among other activities, the project is supporting households to build latrines and constructing institutional latrines, incinerators, bathing shelters and other sanitation facilities. Additionally, the project is also constructing piped water supply systems in Palorinya and Zone 4 of Bidibidi settlement in Yumbe district.

Stella says her group, Fanya Kazi (Do the work), was trained for five days by IOM’s implementing partner, LWF. The members were then given the equipment to start producing the briquettes, which they are now marketing in the settlement. Most people here use charcoal of firewood, but some are starting to appreciate the advantages of briquettes.

“Even me before I came here I had never heard of briquettes, but now I have got the knowledge, I have got the skills,” Stella says. “Briquettes are much more powerful than charcoal. And when you are picking them from the sack, they do not [dirty]  your hands. But also, when you are cooking, the briquettes do not give off any smoke.”

A kilo of briquettes sells for Shs 2,000 (USD 0.55), and the community is slowly getting curious about the little ‘black wheels’. Stella’s group hopes that they will eventually make enough money to buy an electronic briquette machine.

“Our trainer told us that there is a machine that runs on a generator. The problem with our 12-piston machine is that it needs a lot of energy,” Stella says, pitifully demonstrating the repeated hand movements women make to push the machine to compact and churn out the briquettes.

But for now, the two women on the machine seem unflustered and smile through the monotonous task.

 

SURVIVORS
Indeed resilience is an enduring quality among many of the South Sudanese refugees, about 80 percent of them women and children. Stella, who arrived in Uganda on 31 January 2017, epitomizes that will to survive that plucked the refugees out of South Sudan, a country riven by a deadly conflict.

Born in the Kajokeji area, near the border with Uganda, Stella was no stranger to Uganda. She had studied at the Nile Institute of Management Studies (NIMSA) in Uganda’s Arua town. She had returned to her country and done her industrial training as a procurement assistant with South Sudan Beverages Limited.

However in January 2017, while Stella was home in Kajokeji, the violence became unbearable. Stella grew up an orphan: her mother died when she was two years old, and her father followed when she was 10. Now the “unknown gunmen” shot Stella’s maternal uncle dead. This was a sign of the times.

“There was shooting everywhere. People were being slaughtered every day. If they find you, they cut off your head or they beat you up very badly,” says Stella, who would flee with her guardian aunt and her nieces and nephews. “To die with a knife, I would feel very bad. At least let God take my life.”

It was time to run for dear life, and in Stella’s case, her life and that of her unborn baby.

“We left everything in the house. For me I only carried my mattress and we walked for four hours until we got to the Ugandan border at Afogi.”

Stella was then eight-month pregnant, and when the violence flared up in Kajokeji, her husband was trapped in Juba. But she made it.

“When I was walking I feared about losing my baby, but what kept me going was that from the time I was young, I have always loved God. So I said, ‘let God take care of me’.”

Stella’s baby, Samuel Modi, was born on February 23 at Idiwa health centre, where the EU-funded project recently built an incinerator, placenta pit and bathing shelters.

“Samuel is somehow fine,” Stella smiles for the first time during the interview, before her face dramatically morphs into a weary, pleading frown. “But he has an infection in the ear. I took him to Idiwa [health centre] and they gave me eardrops but they have not helped.”

As we part, we agree that she will take Samuel back to the health centre.

“Yes I think I should,” Stella says. “I have to!”

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For more information, please contact Richard M Kavuma; rmkavuma@iom.int; +256 312 263 210