For Sandra, Dreams Do Come True

As a volunteer, I educate people about gender equality and peaceful coexistence among both the old and new arrivals here in Kyaka II settlement.
Sandra, Refugee from DRC and Oxfam community mobilisation volunteer

She keeps her vivid green Oxfam vest on while she enters a hair salon just off a dusty road in Kyakya II refugee settlement. “I promote equal rights;” her vest says on the back side. She welcomes me to the saloon with a big smile.

Her name is Sandra and she is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She came to Uganda in 2001 at the age of eight, fleeing the violence in the DRC together with her mother and sister.

Sandra has been volunteering with Oxfam since April this year. “I like it,” she says. “I am educating people about gender equality here in the settlement, simplifying the concept so that everyone can understand. Given that there are so many new arrivals to the settlement, I hope Oxfam will keep educating people about peaceful coexistence in the family and in the community,” Sandra points out.

Whenever time allows her, she walks into a place very dear to her - the hair salon. “As a child, I loved salons and always dreamt about managing one. Here in Kyakya II, my dream came true,” she tells me. Looking around me, I see the place is simple but well equipped. Posters depicting various hairstyles and hair plaints in different colours decorate the raw walls.

“My clients are both refugees and Ugandans. People here have not much money so they can afford going to a saloon rather rarely. Often I have no more than two customers per week,” she mentions. “However, it helps me a lot. Thanks to the saloon that I initiated with Danish Refugee Council’s (DRC) support, and thanks to Oxfam that pays me some money for promoting equal rights among refugees, I can buy food and clothes for my family and invest more in my salon.”

Sandra now teaches styling skills to other women interested in hair styling and retouching. “My course is much cheaper than similar courses outside the settlement,” she explains. “I know how difficult it is for a big majority of refugees to afford anything but the basic needs,” she says while observing one of her students helping her in the saloon.

“I hope that one day, this saloon will be well known. I would like even people in Kampala to know about it.”

Since late December 2017, the situation in Kyaka II has dramatically changed, with increasing numbers of new arrivals from DR Congo arriving via border crossings in South Western Uganda and transferring to Kyaka II through Nyakabande transit center. Total refugees and asylum seekers in country as of 30th June 2018 are at 1,470,981.  Between Jan 2018 – 16th July 2018, 92,650 new arrivals have been received. Information from the new refugees suggests more may be expected.

Oxfam teaches refugees in Kyaka II about peaceful coexistence in a number of ways: by educating them about equal rights of men and women; through music, dance and drama; and through recreational activities such as football.