Seven years ago, a taxi stopped at Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Isingiro District, and a severely broke twenty-eight-year-old disembarked. Save for the paltry four hundred Ugandan shillings (about ten pennies) and a one thousand shillings airtime debt on his tattered phone, Sebastian Muzahura had nothing to his name. Not even the day’s meal! His host had a dilapidated and short structure that could barely fit a bed; for a month, he slept with his legs outside and upper body in the shade. Today, however, he runs the most sought-after workshop in the settlement and is not short of praise for Windle International Uganda.
“Windle International Uganda helped me become the man that I am today,” he starts with a heavy sigh. “That is all I can say.” The 35-year-old is clearly overwhelmed with gratitude; he is a beneficiary of one of the organisation’s skilling projects in the refugee camp. Despite primarily working with refugees, Windle International Uganda has a window for locals in the settlements, too, and Muzahura took advantage of this. “I have a certificate in carpentry now,” the father of three boasts when asked about his skills.
Seven years ago, Muzahura was just a casual labourer looking for odd jobs to survive; his journey from Bushenyi District to the refugee settlement was in search for said jobs. “I was just looking for something to give me food and maybe enough to pay for a small room, nothing much,” he narrates. He earned about three thousand shillings daily (less than a dollar), and his dream was always to have an odd job to do so he can survive. Nothing big, just the basics.
Unlike many casual laborers, Muzahura wasn’t illiterate. Upon sitting his ordinary level examinations, he dropped out of school due to financial difficulties. “My father is a farmer who had just two gardens and nine children to take care of. To survive, we used to dig for other people,” he narrates. Despite wanting to study, Muzahura had to abandon school and turn to casual work to survive.
Months into his arrival at the settlement, he met a tutor that a mutual friend had told him about from the Nakivale Vocational Training Centre. Muzahura didn’t care for skills training then; when the tutor told him about the non-formal skills training tailored for all age groups, he was shocked. Even better, he learned that the institution was not charging a coin for said training. “Can you imagine?” he sighed. “I was trained free of charge, not even a coin!”
Indeed, established in 2012 by Windle International Uganda, Nakivale Vocational Training Centre’s prerogative is to equip refugees and the host community with practical, employable skills to enable them to exploit available labour market opportunities. The Centre offers formal and non-formal training programs, which have benefited the settlement.
Like many in the community, Muzahura embarked on a six-month carpentry training course right away and gave it his all. The enterprising Muzahura saw a chance to earn a living even while still acquiring the skills. “I could use the machines to make my things and sell,” he recalls. The better he got, the more clients he made, and lucky for him, the institution allowed former students to hire machines for a modest fee. He made beds then for a minimum of fifty thousand shillings (about $15). “That was much better than digging,” he laughs.
Life got better; he passed his papers with an A+ and amassed clients who had since started depositing money for furniture. Muzahura then started employing people. “Since 2015 when I established myself here, I have done work for many people; even the vocational school itself has been getting for me some contracts to make school desks,” he narrates. “When I get paid, I invest.” Now a renowned carpenter, Muzahura no longer rents but instead owns his own workshop space. “I bought two plots of land, the first at 1 million and the second one was 1.5 million,” he jubilantly adds.
It gets better
Asked to describe life then and now, an ecstatic Muzahura says: “My life before carpentry was full of tears; although I was working all the time, I was on loans.” He had three loans from different Saccos; he owed people nearly $1,500, a debt he has since cleared to zero. “I am not using the bank nowadays because I decided to use my customers’ payments as capital.” He makes a minimum of $300 a month, and is widely investing.
“If the Government allows us to stay here, my target is to build an even bigger workshop and expand,” he tells of his plans. “I also want to buy some land outside the settlement, establish my home and another workshop there.” Some of his siblings work with him, while his younger sister who had initially dropped out of school is studying tailoring at the very technical school that molded him into the man he is today. “I am who I am today because of Windle International Uganda. Simple!”