When Canadian Lutheran World Relief made a decision to renew its program emphasis on refugees it was resolved to go beyond the mere warehousing of people fleeing war, famine or economic calamity. CLWR is determined that under its watch, refugees will have the opportunity to develop skills and assets so whether they return to their homeland or emigrate to another country, they would have the skills to live a prosperous and peaceful life.
I saw this strategy in action while visiting the Adjumani settlement for South Sudanese in Uganda. Rather than one large “camp” the population is spread among eight smaller settlements in which the Lutheran World Federation staff cares for more than 93,000 people.
60% of this population is under the age of sixteen. School construction is taking place everywhere and in a variety of ways using locally produced red brick, lumber and metal buildings and even schools in a box – sturdy tent schools to serve until a more permanent building is erected.
You can imagine what a feeling of normalcy it must be for a traumatized child escaping war to be back in a school. Children can dream of new beginnings and endless possibilities. That’s the way it should be.
There are also opportunities for livelihood training for youth and adults. Skills in crafts, textiles and cooking are being developed for women. Training sessions not only build the potential for income generation but provide a time to share personal stories with one another and help overcome the psychological scars of harrowing escapes and lost loved ones.
People also receive seeds, tools, livestock and training in agricultural techniques to provide extra food for the family and even grow some for sale in local markets.
The great underpinning for developing viable livelihoods will be the Village Savings and Loans Associations being established. They are community-directed and administered. People will have an opportunity to save a portion of their income, and also to obtain small loans to increase their earning capacity by acquiring a sewing machine or a new oven or more livestock or stock a small store.
To our North American way of thinking these may seem like small and insignificant actions but to those who are enduring the reality of refugee life, they are life-giving.
When you go to bed tonight in a safe, secure home with adequate food and all the modern conveniences, please remember that Lutherans will be caring for 2,000,000 refugees world-wide.
Tom Brook – Community Relations Director, Canadian Lutheran World Relief