A tailor-made vocation?

What’s one of the biggest problems facing NGOs trying to help formerly abducted women reintegrate in northern Uganda?

Counselling? Sure, that’s the first step. But most NGOs have that base covered.

Education? Yep, there’s no doubt that most of these women missed out on schooling after an average 10 years in the bush. But they now have kids to support and can’t afford to go to school with mouths to feed.

So vocational training is the most crucial of problems to address.

This will allow these women to wean themselves off NGO handouts, regain confidence and above all to empower themselves.

So far the majority of NGOs I’ve spoken to are resorting to the same vocation: tailoring.

I don’t wish to be a backseat aid-giver, but I think this is a mistake.

You only have to walk the streets of Gulu, Pader, Patongo or Kitgum to see that the tailoring market is over-saturated. You can throw a ball of thread and hit someone hard at work on their Singer outside a storefront.

Yet certain well-established aid organizations in the north continue to train the formerly adducted women affiliated with them, in this profession. It’s admirable that they supply them with free tuition, a machine and materials upon graduation.

But what good are these skills when you still struggle to make ends meet?

Some women like Evelyn say they made less than $1 a day due to the number of tailors. She had to resort to selling silverfish on the side to make ends meet.

Staff at one of Kitgum’s NGOs acknowledged this problem when I confronted them about it and said they intend to address it by starting classes in IT, carpentry and business management.

However, that may not be soon enough for women like Evelyn.

Some academics have proposed teaching women agricultural skills. The land is plentiful and fertile, and high food prices in Uganda suggest there’s a market.

But critics have argued that these women can’t afford to rent the land. Plus agriculture is looked down upon as the young generations flock to the cities seeking their fortune.

But if these organisations continue to stick with tailoring something has to be done about the classroom conditions.

I visited one workshop for formerly abducted children where 20+ kids crowded into a tiny classroom.

They had to take turns on 4 sewing machines, minimizing the amount of hands-experience they get in a day.

I have no answer to the problem – I just think that tailoring isn’t it.

Typical journalist, I guess.