Women Refugees – Empowered to Create a New, Better Life
15 June 2015

(Top Left) Arrupe Women's Centre. (Top Right)The first group of graduates from the livelihoods programme at Arrupe Women’s Centre Johannesburg. (Bottom Left) Sebo Konde, part-time sewing instructor showing one of the beautiful items produced by the ladies of Arrupe Women’s Centre. (Bottom Right) The mood was festive in the lead up to the graduation ceremony.
"We initiated the centres to mainstream the refugee and asylum seeker women we assist. That way they are self-reliant and in some instances not dependent on men who may be abusing them.”

Johannesburg, Yeoville, 5 June 2015 – South Africa is in the peculiar position of not accommodating refugees and asylum seekers within refugee camps, under normal, peaceful circumstances. This renders most refugees and asylum seekers within South African borders as “urban refugees”. Whereas refugees within refugee camps are provided with healthcare, food, education and basic accommodation; they do not have freedom of movement and an opportunity to integrate with society within the host community. 

Urban refugees, in the alternative, can seek employment and entrepreneurship opportunities outside of their immediate refugee community. In as much as they have a right to integrate with their adopted society, so too do they have a right to seek employment or have the right to safely run their businesses to feed themselves and their families. These rights however carry with it the reality and responsibility that urban refugees have to provide for themselves, pitting them against locals as competitors, at times locals that have limited resources themselves. 

At times, with very little capital – if any, unrecognised or a low skills base, many refugees are left vulnerable, facing massive challenges in starting their own businesses or securing decent employment, more so women.

An initiative by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in South Africa, with funding from the Goetz Foundation and UNHCR, is aimed at closing this gap. JRS provides small business grants to refugees and asylum seekers upon application and assessment, enabling these people in need to become self-reliant and independent. However, upon assessment, there is, at times, a realisation that those that wish to start their own businesses might not have the necessary business acumen to run successful small and micro enterprises that would be able to sustain livelihoods.   Arrupe Women’s Centre and Loyola Skills Development Centre aim to close these gaps, by providing education.

The programme goes further than empowerment through education with an extended focus on social cohesion. With South African women being part of the programme and also benefitting from this wonderful learning and business opportunity, diversity and social cohesion is fostered. This is how a healthy cultural exchange is encouraged. Through interaction in a social and educational environment, friendships are forged, myths dispelled and lessons learnt in differing cultural norms.

“We prioritise women. Some of the women we assist are victims of sexual and gender based violence, others are single or single mothers. We initiated the centres to mainstream the refugee and asylum seeker women we assist. That way they are self-reliant and in some instances not dependent on men who may be abusing them.” Explains Tatenda Chikomba, Livelihood Co-ordinator at JRS, South Africa.

Tereda Van Heerden was appointed as the Business Manager for Arrupe Centre for Women in February of 2015. She explains: “The purpose of the Centre is to cater for those women who fell through the cracks and failed in other businesses.”
These women are then given a greater opportunity in making their businesses work through a course that is three months in length. “We offer English, sewing, baking as well as arts and crafts classes. We aim is to teach them a skill and provide them with a business start-up kit once they graduate.” Van Heerden explains.

With an almost 87% graduation rate, with 26 out of the initial 30 students completing and graduating from the programme, it is not only a rapid means of imparting skills, but clearly a highly successful and effective one as well. 

The business start-up kit the graduates receive upon completion of the course, serves as a real asset, in the simplest understanding, capital with which to start their businesses. “As most of the students did all the courses, I tried to make the most out of the small amount provided for each student.  They each received a small oven, a sewing machine and then - with whatever funds remained - baking equipment, ingredients and material.” says Van Heerden.

The creation of sustainable livelihoods for refugees is not geographically only limited to Johannesburg. Further North, in the second largest metropolitan hub in the South African Province of Gauteng, is a similar project under Van Heerden’s management. In the city of Pretoria, you will find Loyola Skills Development Centre. 

Here too the same skills’ programmes are offered, with computer training given as an additional course. Since the programme only started in March 2015, in Pretoria, the first group of graduates would have completed their courses by the end of June.

Arrupe Women’s Centre and Loyola Skills Development Centre are giving the most vulnerable amongst refugees and asylum seekers independence, education, self-reliance and most of all, a real chance at a second – better – life in their new homes.  

Press Contact Information
Gushwell F. Brooks
+27 11 618 3404