CALL ME EDGAR THE TAILOR

There are two tailors in Nakivale refugee settlement that 17-year-old Edgar Ndashimya admires. A gentleman called Timothy and a lady named Naomi. The two he says are the most sought-after tailors in the settlement, which is Edgar’s goal! “I stay in Kabazana A,” the teenager, also a Burundian refugee living in the same settlement in Isingiro District, begins. “I have seen people come from all over the place to those two tailors, I also want to be like them.”

With a gripping stare, he asks, “I mean, why not me?”

Despite completing primary school before migrating to Uganda, Edgar was not interested in secondary school. He sought out Windle International Uganda to make this happen for him, and they did. “I just wanted to get a good skill and start earning income to support my people and myself,” he speaks with the command of a full-grown adult.

When he first started training at the Windle International Uganda-founded Nakivale Vocational Training Centre, he was encouraged by his parents to study welding on the self-help arrangement he had been offered. “Instead of paying tuition, I would help around with compound work during my free time and I got a bursary to study,” he narrates. There was no better arrangement than this, and the elated Edgar would be done with the chores just in time for class.

Dreams

However, this did not sit well with him; he was deviating from his goal. Edgar wanted to be a tailor. Nothing else! “I abandoned the welding course, I didn’t even like it,” he giggles. “I would like to thank Windle International Uganda for allowing me to change the course.” At first, he was afraid they would take away his bursary, but they didn’t, and the chatty Edgar sings the praise of the organisation to whoever cares to listen. “I mean, where would I even get money to pay for tuition if Windle had said no?” he wonders out loud.

Edgar and his family were struggling; they left everything behind in search of peace here in Uganda. It started when the villages next to theirs were in flames and bloodshed. It was only a matter of time before the battle would arrive at their yard. Scared, his father bundled up their family and sought the borders of Uganda. Barely a teenager then, he left his home country Burundi together with his family without a single clue of how they would survive. His parents were farmers, but without land, they had turned to casual jobs. The family could barely afford food, and neither did they have the skills to fetch more income.

Catching a break

In November 2020, Nakivale Vocational Training Center, through the Tailoring and Garment Cutting department, embarked on facemask production. The activity by Windle International Uganda, funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, saw tailoring students like Edgar, making 70,000 facemasks to be distributed around the settlement. For each facemask produced, the tailor earned five hundred Ugandan shillings. To ensure quality work and faster production, the department called upon some of the best recent graduates and continuing students to participate in facemasks production training. It was successful!

“Can you imagine that I made 500,000 shs!” he exclaims with arms in the air. The young man didn’t hesitate to put that money to good use and is eager to account for every last penny. “I bought a tailoring machine at 400,000, the balance was 100,000 shs right?” he asks emphatically. “Then I paid a woman to help me kick start the business and my father sold his bicycle and bought for me a big table.”

That was it; Edgar started work, and barely a week in, he bought a flat iron at 15,000 shs. Fellow learners began giving him a little money to make some modest clothes for them, and he is now slowly persuading his community. “Other people make a normal dress without serious designs for between, 8,000 shs and 10,000 shs but I charge 6,000 shs.”

Because he is not yet where he wants to be, Edgar has decided to beat every tailor’s price in the settlement and raise enough income to establish a more extensive workstation. “I want to buy a second machine and employ someone else,” he says. His goal is to make a minimum of about $200 a month and take care of his family. Interestingly, despite still being in school, Edgar is already contributing to his family’s daily meals. “I don’t know where we would be without this vocational skill, I don’t like thinking about it,” he says.

For now, though, he has a two-year plan; by the time he turns twenty, he should have perfected his skill and given Naomi and Timothy a run for their money.

“In fact, call me, Edgar the tailor,” he barks out a laugh as he speeds off to class.

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