Still a teenager but like a ‘mother’ to her siblings17-year-old Gloria Affia fled to Uganda from South Sudan after her uncle was killed. She and her two siblings aged 12 and four had to flee on foot. She is now their sole guardian making it vital to find a way to provide for them. As part of a project implemented by the Danish Refugee Council, she is training to become a tailor.
The tailoring shop is located on one of the busiest streets within the trading center of Ocea zone in Rhino camp Refugee Settlement in Northwestern Uganda, also called West Nile. It is not hard to spot. Outside the shop, turquoise school uniforms are lined up lighting up the street. Walking into the shop, you are met by even more bright colors. Fabrics and dresses in all shapes and sizes hanging everywhere. A group of young women are busy sewing and making the colorful creations. One of them is 17-year-old Gloria Affia. She is currently working as an apprentice in the shop.
"She is doing incredibly well - she is really talented," says Yawa Emelda, who is Gloria's mentor.
Shyly, Gloria looks down at the sewing machine.
The apprenticeship is a way for Gloria Affia to acquire new sewing skills - but also to make new friends, she says. Photo: Tobin Jones / DRC
She started the apprenticeship only a few months ago and in her own opinion, she has much to learn still. Gloria therefore hopes to be able to continue with the job training provided by the Danish Refugee Council.
"I really hope that I can get a diploma in sewing and maybe subsequently get support to acquire a sewing machine for example, so I can continue to sew on my own," she says.
A two month's walk to reach safety
Gloria arrived in Uganda in September 2016. Previously, she lived in South Sudan's capital, Juba, with her uncle and her two younger siblings. Their parents had died, but her uncle took care of them. Until one day when suddenly soldiers came to their doorstep and asked him to come along.
"They shot him near our home," says Gloria.
That same day, she decided to leave South Sudan with her 12-year-old brother, Richard, and four-year-old sister, Princess. Quickly, she packed a few possessions – only enough for them to carry. Then they started walking into the bush in the hope of reaching safety.
"There was no one to help us. It was just the three of us," she says.
It took them two months on foot to reach Uganda. It was a hard journey she recalls while staring at the ground. But now they are safe and she is more concerned about her future than her past. This is why the training to become a tailor is important to her. Despite her young age, she is responsible for her two siblings - a responsibility that weighs heavy on her young shoulders.
"When we arrived at the camp, we were assigned a foster mother. But she went back to Congo, where she was from," says Gloria:
"Now I do not know what is to become of us. Now, there is no one other than myself to take care of them. It often feels like too much responsibility, but what can I do? There is no one else."
Richard and Princess both attend school, Gloria says with pride in her voice. As the sole breadwinner, that is not an option she has herself.
"If I go to school there won’t be anyone to cook and care for Princess. I have to provide for her," she says.
Gloria hopes that her new sewing skills will enable her to work from home in order for her to make a living while looking after her siblings.
Though Gloria has only been a tailoring and garment cutting apprentice for a few months, it has already changed her life. As a part of the training she has met a group of older teenage girls such as herself and young women.
"Now I've got friends - something that I’ve never had before. I now have someone to talk to about things. I really appreciate that.”
About the project: "Social and Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Refugees to Reduce Violence against Them"
The project, which Gloria Affia is a part of, provides job training skills to vulnerable girls and young women in Rhino camp in Northwestern Uganda, helping them to become self-sufficient. 18 girls have been apprentices in the same tailor shop as Gloria with support from the Danish Refugee Council. At the same time, they are assigned a mentor for two-months, which they hope will be extended to six months to ensure they learn the skills properly. The project is one of many that Danish Refugee Council implements in the area with the aim of helping refugees as well as members of the host communities find employment and be able to support themselves.
Africa's largest refugee crisis
With only a few years of exceptions, South Sudan has been plagued by war for decades. The country was granted independence from Sudan in 2011 thereby becoming the world's youngest nation. But only two years later, the country plunged into a brutal civil war, which is estimated to have cost more than 300,000 people their lives so far. At the same time more than two million have become internally displaced inside South Sudan and more than 1.5 million have fled to neighboring countries - primarily Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Uganda alone has welcomed around 700,000 South Sudanese refugees.
During the summer of 2016, violent conflict erupted once again forcing people to flee. According to the UN, up to two thousand refugees arrive to Uganda every day. The Danish Refugee Council works in South Sudan and neighboring countries including Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia and provides assistance to the people who are seeking refuge outside the country.
Rhino camp - no ordinary refugee camp
Rhino camp in Uganda is not like most refugee camps. There are no rows of tents crammed into a tight space. Instead it covers a wider area, and refugees live in villages that are scattered throughout the area. The neighboring villages are inhabited by native Ugandans who have lived there for generations. Rhino camp is divided into clusters of homesteads called villages including Ocea, a replica of the indigenous pattern of settlement. The villages are grouped according to proximity to constitute zones. Refugees in Rhino camp settlement and all other refugee settlements in West Nile and Uganda as a whole have access to plots of land for shelter and farming.