Brenda Shina is a shy 18-year old. A South Sudanese refugee who came to a settlement in Uganda in 2016 at the age of 14 after the collapse of the peace agreement which was signed in 2015 between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar – friends turned foes. A fierce battle ensued between their loyalists in 2016 in a clash dubbed the Battle of Juba. The stench of death hung in the air as the dead lined the streets. The fierce fighting spread to other towns including Yei towards the southwest of Juba where the U.N human rights office reported that about 114 civilians were killed by pro-government forces between July 2016 and January 2017, figures which were dismissed as “baseless” by the SPLA. According to the U.N., the SPLA also committed an unknown number of rapes, torture and looting.
Brenda is from Yei, the home whence she fled. For an only child who lost her father in 2013 when she was just 11, life couldn’t get any worse. Her mother soon remarried and their relationship became estranged as she moved in with different relatives at different times. Her schooling was interrupted several times and the war didn’t help matters. The fighting actually brought her education to a halt.
When the 2016 fighting reached its peak, Brenda fled into Uganda. UNHCR placed her in Tika, a settlement in Rigbo sub-county then Arua district, now Madi Okollo district. She felt her dream of having an education was shattered. That changed when ANCHOR visited her settlement and offered to help support especially girls and other vulnerable groups acquire vocational skills and be empowered in their quest to end economic exclusion.
When I had a chat with Brenda, she struck me as being strong, determined, and ambitious yet shy. She was generous with her smiles. Smiles which spread from her lips to her eyes. Contagious. However, when she spoke about the period from when her dad died to when she fled her home country, she stared into the distance. It seemed as though I wasn’t there with her. Her narration was so heart-wrenching that no listener would have dry eyes at the end of it. I had to control myself. For a girl that young to go through so much is a lot to take in.
Brenda is a beneficiary of the Refugee and Host Community Access and Innovation in Skills for Employment (RAISE). The RAISE project is being implemented under the Skills Development Fund (SDF), which is part of the Support to Skilling Uganda Strategy (SSU) project. SSU is jointly implemented by Enabel and the Ministry of Education and Sports with the support of the Belgian Government, European Union, and GIZ. The programme focuses on supporting the 10-year “Skilling Uganda” strategic plan that aims at making Skills Development in Uganda more demand driven through linking BTVET with the real world of work.
With funding from GIZ, the Response to Increased Demand on Government Service and Creation of Economic Opportunities (RISE) Programme is creating inclusive employment opportunities for women and youth amongst refugees and their host populations through short and medium term Vocational Training; Entrepreneurship and Life Skilling; and Start Up kits and mentorship support in Northern Uganda. Furthermore, the intervention has identified skills gaps related to the emerging settlement economy and green skill economy that can reduce on negative environmental impacts due to the refugee crisis.
Brenda is more than enthused at the prospect of completing her course of choice which will lead to the award of a Worker’s Practically Acquired Skills (W-PAS) certificate by the Directorate of Industrial Training – Ministry of Education and Sports – in Bricklaying and Concrete Practice. Many may find this quite surprising because building is traditionally believed to be a man’s turf. ANCHOR is helping change the narrative by empowering girls like Brenda to break barriers to their inclusion simply on the basis of their gender.
We wish Brenda the very best as she embarks on this most inspiring journey …