by Major Ray Brown
TRAINING centres have a significant role to play in The Salvation Army’s work with internally displaced persons (IDPs) and one centre in Lira, Uganda, is showing how a small amount of support provided to trainees after graduation can help set them up for life.
The Salvation Army International Emergency Services team has been looking after the administration of Bala Stock Farm Vocational Training Centre on behalf of the Uganda Command and is witnessing the long-term benefits of helping people who were forced to flee their homes during the country’s civil war.
|Training centre graduates Otoa and Oluk Mark at their market stall|
|Major Ray Brown and a trainer from the centre visit Opota and his new bicycle-mending workshop|
|Finding out how business is progressing and what help the training has been|
The centre, also supported by HopeHIV and Chatham Finance, gives young trainees an excellent six-month grounding in carpentry/joinery, tailoring and cutting garments or building and concrete practice, together with lessons in entrepreneurial skills.
A recent development saw the emergency services team fund a small loan support scheme, repayable over six months, for 10 selected graduates from the training project. Having given out the loan, my fellow team member Captain Stuart Evans (Australia) and I arranged to visit the beneficiaries to see how their fledgling businesses are coming on.
Rain and poor driving conditions meant the team was able to visit just three of the new entrepreneurs but what they witnessed brought great encouragement.
All the graduates made a point of saying how much they valued the opportunity to have taken part in the training. They were certainly trying to apply the disciplines they had been taught and the entrepreneurial skills they had learned – and this in an area with very limited job opportunities.
Graduates Otoa Silvest and Oluk Mark Polo were running a small stall in their local market – they still live in the campsite set up for protection during the worse of the troubles. Officially, the need for camps is now gone but the reality is that many people do not want to leave what has become the only place they feel safe.
On some days, the two young people explained, they travel further afield to take advantage of other outdoor markets. Otoa, a graduate of the carpentry classes, and Oluk Mark, a former tailoring student, were selling all sorts of goods, ranging from toothpastes to travel bags. They both said their businesses were doing well and they were confident that not only could they pay back their start-up loans but they were sure they would be able to make their businesses successful in the long term.
Opota Lawrence, a building and concrete practice graduate, was living nearby in another area of the former camp. Opota had set up a small workshop in a hut and was busy mending bicycles. Bicycles are a very important mode of transport in Uganda, with budabuda taxis – basically a shelf on the back of a bike – a hugely popular and inexpensive way of getting around. Opota had already spent about three quarters of his loan setting up and buying the tools of his trade but he told us that he was really busy. His little workshop is already popular and well used.
It is early days but, if the story of these three students is replicated by the other seven young people, then the discipline, skills and values propagated at Bala Stock Farm will have been well worth the effort made, and the loan scheme will prove to be a life-changing investment.
|Salvation Army International Emergency Services team members are taught to be ready for anything – including finding you are guests of honour at a sporting occasion attended by more than 3,000 people – as Major Ray Brown discovered in Uganda:|
OUR driver, John, and translator, Jasper, asked if Captain Stuart Evans and I wanted to go ‘to the football’. They said a team from England was playing Bora Bora, the local ‘pro’ soccer side in Lira. It was a 4pm kick-off on a Friday afternoon so we decided to go for it.
Ray and Stuart greet the teams
I am still not entirely sure who the ‘England’ team was – apparently it was some sort of group of coaches and players from lower professional divisions doing a trip with some connection to the charity Samaritan’s Purse.
Anyway, Jasper was part of the organising committee and arranged to get us in for free. There must have been a good three or four thousand people in the crowd who had each paid the 1,000 Ugandan shillings entrance fee.
When we arrived Jasper came over to us, marched us across the pitch and sat us on seats by the halfway line set aside for special guests (there were only about nine seats in the whole ground). We were now – to our great suprise – the guests of honour! The Samaritan’s Purse representative was rather confused as to how we had got involved.
We were introduced by the sports secretary for the area as ‘the Salvation Army people who have been working hard for the people of Uganda and Lira’, which was a nice acknowledgement. Then we had to do the ‘royal’ bit and shake hands with the teams. I had to do a quick speech and kick a ball into the air. I’m thankful I didn’t miss and equally thankful they didn’t ask Stuart – as an Australian he doesn’t recognise a round ball!
Sadly, after about 30 minutes the heavens opened monsoon-style and everyone – including us – scattered. We left as the teams were drawing one each.
It was all totally surreal – life on deployment is never dull!
When not on secondment to International Emergency Services, Major Ray Brown is corps officer at Nottingham William Booth Memorial Hall Corps, UK