Zimbabwe: Celebration in the Heat and Dust of Tongogara Refugee Camp
26 August 2015

Father David Holdcroft SJ, Regional Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Southern Africa Region, sharing words of encouragement with graduates of the JRS Vocational Skills' Training (VST) Programme. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)
“This [VST Programme] is a lifetime investment. We have gone from nobody to somebody. Now we have titles, welder, shoemaker, juice-maker, carpenter and dressmaker, we are somebody. Prior to this training, it was difficult to raise even one dollar, then you could spend such long periods without an income that you forgot the colour of a dollar.”

Tongogara, 26 August 2015 - The sun beats down on pale yellow soil as a brisk breeze covers everything in a thin layer of dust. Those seated on plastic and wooden chairs and benches listen attentively to the speeches being made in their honour, smiling broadly as the ample branches and foliage of a large fig tree provide shade and shelter from the unrelenting sun. Carpenters, caterers, juice-makers, dressmakers, welders, cobblers and a variety of other newly skilled people are being honoured this day, it is a celebration in the middle of Tongogara Refugee Camp.


The tragedy, persecution and difficulties that led these 267 graduates to leave the countries of their birth, to Tongogara Refugee Camp, here in the remoteness of Zimbabwe’s rural outreaches, is momentarily forgotten. They are graduating from the Vocational Skills Training (VST) Programme, organised and run by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Zimbabwe. 


Donatien, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo and second stage graduate who completed courses in business management, conflict resolution, welding and repairing took to the podium and spoke on behalf of the graduates at the ceremony: “This [VST Programme] is a lifetime investment. We have gone from nobody to somebody. Now we have titles, welder, shoemaker, juice-maker, carpenter and dressmaker, we are somebody. Prior to this training, it was difficult to raise even one dollar, then you could spend such long periods without an income that you forgot the colour of a dollar.”


Speaking to Donatien, the day after the graduation ceremony, he attests to the real successes of the VST Programme. “A group of us are running our small businesses jointly and individually, generating incomes through making doorframes, window frames, wheelbarrows and doing repairs around the camp. We have built and sold our own wheelbarrows, which we sell for $ 70 and we have sold more than 10.”


It is not just the community within the camp that supports these businesses, but local Zimbabwean citizens as well. Donatien explains: “Locals do come to the camp and buy. It is difficult for us as refugees to leave the camp, but we regularly trade with the locals. Our materials are purchased in Mutare and transport is arranged which we pay for.”


As the graduation ceremony started, Mr Zengeya, as Camp Administrator made everyone feel at home and at ease. The UNHCR Protection Officer and Representative, Mr Taimu, thanked JRS for providing the training. He however, had an important message for the graduates: “You can only do justice to this course if you make use of it to sustain livelihoods, you can only do justice to the course by building a career.”
Father David Holdcroft SJ, Regional Director of JRS Southern Africa Region, gave words of encouragement to the graduates. “The real work starts here.” he said. Using a swimming analogy, he painted a clear picture of why it is so important that the graduates keep on persevering in their endeavours. “When swimming, if you stop moving forward, you will sink and drown, so keep on moving forward.” were his words to the graduates. 


Being confined to camp is no impediment to refugees and asylum seekers at Tongogara Refugee Camp securing rewarding and fulfilling lives by earning an income, reaping the fruit of sustaining their livelihoods through the dignity of their own skilled labour. Despite being confined to a camp, testimonies such as those of Donatien prove that programmes such as VST improve the quality of life refugees and asylum seekers have within a camp scenario. It also empowers and upskills those that gradate from these programmes, giving them greater opportunity and capacity to be gainfully employed once they are relocated to another country upon resettlement. 


The quality and efficacy of the skill’s programme is evident in the work the beneficiaries of the programme produce. Saint Michael’s Secondary School, the secondary school within Tongogara Camp, have their uniforms and school shoes produced by the co-operative efforts of the dressmaking and cobbler graduates from prior years. Graduates from the cookery classes have opened their own restaurant that offers a range of flavourful traditional dishes for a range of customers within and around the camp. 


Hope sustains these refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom have spent over a decade in the camp, waiting for resettlement or an opportunity to return home once peace and normality prevails. Their hope in a better future is bolstered by the prospect of acquiring further skills through the VST programmes provided by JRS in partnership with organisations such as Silveira House. Apart from the prospect of a better future, the immediate impact of the VST programme is that despite limited economic opportunity, those that graduate from the programme are better equipped to improve their livelihoods needs, in the present, within the camp. Some of the graduates of the programme have started small businesses, small businesses that employ other refugees and asylum seekers, businesses that give these graduates, with the little extra they earn, an opportunity to supplement their families’ diets, provide better shelter and have a better quality of life in general. 


The outcome is no better illustrated then in the broad smiles of the graduates as they receive a certificate that does not only place their hard work record, but signifies a hope filled with greater opportunity for the future. 
 







Press Contact Information
Gushwell F. Brooks
gushwell.brooks@jrs.net
+27 11 618 3404