Florence Nyaeigo looks younger than her 28 years. She is from South-Sudan and has lived in refugee camp in northern Uganda for a year now she tells us. We meet her in her little shop she has established on the “main street” of the Morobo refugee camp. This is a large camp with over 200,000 South-Sudanese refugees.
From her shop, fabrics and ready-made clothes are sold from their own production. Florence originally came from the city of Kajo Keji in the southern part of South-Sudan. Here she joined a Bonga group, a project run by the “Diocese of Kajo Keji”. They were 20 girls aged from 13-18 who went through a 9 months program. They all finished with a 3-month vocational training. For Florence, it was the weaving that became her choice of career. She established a weaving group and was responsible for it during the 3 years. Then she wanted to learn to sew and pay with her own money to find a person teaching her.
The most important impact she got from Bonga group was learning to read and write. Education was never possible for her, she got married early and got family.
In Kajo Keji, she managed to establish her own training center where she trained young girls, but they also produced clothes for sale. She rented her first sewing machines, but soon she bought her own and had 6 sewing machines before she had to escape with her family.
As the conflict level increased and the government army and the rebel groups started fighting, it became dangerous to be in town. Together with her family, she left for a three-day walk to the border with Uganda. She had to leave all the equipment she had, and only had a little money she received as a trainer for three other girls she taught how to sew.
It did not take long before she established a small tailoring centre in the refugee camp. The first time, she rented a sewing machine, but with income she could buy her own and more came. In the shop, she has established it is clothes she has brought from Kampala and taken to the camp. The profits are good, she says with a smile.
As we talk to her in the store, a young boy came in, “this is my son she said”; We asked how old he was. “16 years old she answered!!!” She is only 28. Today, the family has 5 children, the youngest is one year. The husband is also working, as a driver and has work in Kampala.
Florence has gone a long way to where she is today. As a young mother and wife, her responsibility was to stay at home cooking and serving the family. Without possibility to education, there were little opportunities for her to realize other dreams.
In her shop, she has employed one person taking care of the customers while she is running the tailoring center for vocational training. Here too she has employed a man who can help her teach the 19 students. Many students want to join the 3 months course, and she told us that one of them walked 7 km each day to attend.
It is a crowded vocational center right next to the marketplace, and high activity among the girls producing clothes on several sewing machines.
“Look here, these five machines are mine, the rest I rent,” she said proudly. In one day, she can earn UGX 120,000-200,000
In the room there is also a hairdresser. Florence tells that she has a friend who has been on a Bonga course and learned hairdressing, but she did not have a place to work. Now she can rent a small part of the room in the center, here are both the hut rooms and workrooms.
Florence has sent the three oldest children to the boarding school in Kampala. There were no school options at the camp when they arrived. Now the school is crowded and the quality of teaching is not good. But it is expensive to have them in the boarding school, yet she manages to pay school fees herself. The oldest son’s fees alone cost UGX 350. “But education is important,” she said.
The Bonga group she attended in Kajo Keji meant a lot to her. She learned to write and read. She learned about tailoring and about managing herself in society. Today she has lost contact with the other Bonga girls who also had to flee from South-Sudan.
Florence is a strong woman, and who has worked hard and smart to get where she is. Even though she had to leave her home and the activity in Kajo Keji, she did not give up. Now she has put herself together and focused on starting again.
These are the people who can help build the country of South-Sudan. One day, she can return with the knowledge and energy to build up a war-torn land – but it may still take a few years.