There's been a lot of talk in the press about refugees and asylum seekers over the past couple of weeks. But the simple fact is that these people are a tiny fraction of a major problem: the displacement of people from their homes and liveliehoods thanks to war. Take, for example, northern Uganda.
Since 1986, when Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army began tearing a bloody swathe through the country, about 1.8 million people have been relocated within the Ugandan borders. They've mostly gone into Internally Displaced People's Camps (IDCs), which clamed to offer a level of protection against the ongoing conflict. In reality, these camps were little better than prisons, and conditions behind the fences worsened badly over time. Disease, poverty and malnourishment became the norm, and there were few opportunities to leave.
Over the past couple of years, the situaton has improved, and people are being allowed out of the camp. However, in many cases there's little left for them at home. Many IDC residents are moving on, looking to find new opportunities to make a life for themselves and their families.
They are being helped by charities like 31 Bits, who are helping women in the District of Gulu in the far north of the country, to finally take charge of their own destinies. They are beng trained to create papercraft jewellery, using materials that would otherwise go in the trash. But more importantly, they're being given a framework to economic stability.
I've seen a lot of charities like 31 Bits over my years writing for Pier32, but none with such a clear plan of action for getting the people under their care out of poverty. There's a strong underpinning of financial education. Many of 31 Bits' workers have never rally had money before. They need to learn about budgets, balancing ther finances, how to save for the future. There's also a strong belief in community spirit, in making sure that everyone is included–spouses as well. With that comes a focus on physical and mental well-being. This includes psychologcal coaching and group sessions where the men of the community, so often marginalised in these initiatives, get the chance to talk about their contribution to family life.
The end goal is to build businesses that are self-sufficient and not reliant on the Western market. And that's important. If projects like 31 Bits are to succeed, it's with the knowledge that they're building strong communities that aren't depending on the vagaries of foreign trade. As domestic markets grow and money flows back into the country, then I think we'll see the true benefit of what's happening in places like Gulu. Soon, I hope, it will be known not as the ste of Joseph Kony's atrocities, but as a thriving hub for commerce.
Find out more about the work and the ladies of 31 Bits: http://31bits.com/uganda/