Entebbe - The bubbly workshop in Entebbe, Uganda, resembles a scene from a high-school classroom, as participants share complaints relayed to them by their former trainees, now working in the Middle East. The participants are instructors that train migrant workers (mostly domestic servants) set to depart for the Middle East. 
“One girl called me crying, that she was being given very little food, yet she had a lot of work to do,” said one of the participants. 
“For me, this one girl complained that she had given in to the sexual advances to her boss’s son, and now she was worried that she could be pregnant,” says yet another participant.
The Training of Trainers was organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with Uganda’s ministries of Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, and Gender, Labour and Social Development.  Participants at this workshop work with migrants by delivering predeparture orientation to those who have found job opportunities in the Middle East, mostly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 
“Migrant workers are human beings with dreams, emotions, and unique individual experiences. By fostering empathy and understanding, we can build trust and invaluable rapport with our trainees,” noted Sanusi Tejan Savage, the IOM Chief of Mission in Uganda. 
Hundreds of thousands of Ugandans are working in other countries, especially in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.  Statistics show that Ugandans abroad sent home nearly USD 1.3 billion between 2022 and this year – an estimated 12 percent of Uganda’s annual budget. 

However, migrant workers face a lot of challenges, with mainstream and social media often awash with stories of sexual and physical abuse and even death. Following these horrific experiences, the government of Uganda banned the export of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia in 2016. Saudi Arabia is Uganda’s leading labour export market. However, in 2017, the government lifted the ban on condition that those travelling to the Middle East to work as domestic servants would receive mandatory predeparture orientation/training for two weeks.  Today there are over 65 such centers operating privately but with the approval of the government. 
“The skills of migrant workers from Uganda have significantly improved in the last three years. People used to board planes to go abroad to work when they had never touched a fridge, when they had never learnt how to wash a fridge or pack things in a fridge,” says Joseph Kahuma, Executive Director of Migrant Labour Trainers Association of Uganda (MILTA-U). 
Kahuma, who spent nearly 20 years as a social worker in the United Kingdom (UK), says the training covers practical skills but also helps to mentally prepare the migrant workers for the job ahead. 
“We receive people from various backgrounds, and some come with lots of frustration in life, whereby going abroad is a last resort,” says Kahuma. “Some are graduates or schoolteachers and now they are going to work as cleaners.  We need to prepare these people psychologically for what awaits them out there.”
Most migrant workers are primary or secondary school dropouts who have tried several jobs. Others have never been to school at all.  Hence devising a suitable curriculum and training materials has been difficult.
In 2021, IOM developed   a standard curriculum, training manual and a migrant workers’ handbook in collaboration with the Ugandan government.  The first ever such training happened in 2021 also with the support of IOM.  The IOM-supported training documents have made the trainers’ work a lot easier.

“I teach Job Specifications and Smart Easy Travel,” says Nazifa Nantale, a trainer with Fussilat Skilling and Training Centre in Kampala. “We make sure the migrant worker has understood the exact kind of work they are going to do, and then we give them practical lessons.  If you are training scrubbing of a bathtub, the girl wears gloves, uses the detergents, and actually scrubs. Or if it is using a gas cooker, you explain how a gas cooker works and get them to light it and use it.”

But one can only learn so much in two weeks. Trainees, Nantale says, are often reminded that the most important trainer is the employer.  
Financial literacy is a critical part of a migrant worker’s training. There have been stories of migrant workers being swindled of their hard-earned money by relatives back home. 
“I realize that when we are teaching money matters, no trainee can fall asleep, because this is very important for them. We advise them to open bank accounts here in Uganda, and if they use Western Union to send money to a relative, the relative must bank the money and send a bank receipt,” says Nantale.
Juma Farus Abdallah, 52, teaches “Country of Destination” and other topics at Fussilat. Here, migrant workers are taught everything about the country of destination – presently Saudi Arabia – how the people live and behave, the culture, the food, and how they dress.
“The biggest challenge our ladies face is the language barrier, because in Saudi Arabia they use Arabic. So, we have a package whereby we make sure that within the two weeks, a person can understand basic Arabic,” says Abdallah.
According to Sumayah, who worked as a supermarket cashier in Kampala before migrating to Saudi Arabia, migrant workers need to be prepared to do all kinds of jobs in the receiving countries.  
“I had to look after a patient who had suffered a stroke and could not even feed himself,” says Sumayah, now a trainer in Kampala. “If he soiled his bedsheets, I had to lift him all by myself, clean him and change his sheets. We need to be frank with the girls we train and give them all the scenarios because one cannot know what the employing household will be like.”
The sheer volume of work frustrates many Ugandan workers. Doreen, who spent two years and three months as a domestic worker in Riyadh, found herself looking after a household of seven adults, washing, cleaning, cooking for everyone – and the family’s visitors.
Meanwhile, the labour training sector faces bigger challenges. In recent months, many training centres have very few trainees, because many job orders are reportedly going to Ethiopia. 
But as Joseph Kahuma stresses, the training has improved. “In fact, the complaints we are getting are now all about mistreatment by employers; no one is questioning the competence of Ugandan migrant workers.”

This story was written by Richard M Kavuma, IOM Uganda Public Information Officer.

Image 1: A participants makes her point during the training. Image 2: Nazifa Nantale (Left) says trainers have had to take a practical-oriented approach to the training
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth