The sewing circle of Arua

The sewing circle of Arua

Publication info

Kerstin Blidi

Regina arrived at Rhino Camp, a settlement of South Sudanese refugees in northwest Uganda’s Arua district, in July 2016. She’d fled her home in South Sudan, with her five siblings and two of her children, the youngest only 2 months old.  

“Being both a single mother of two young children and a refugee is challenging. At the beginning I did not know what to do. I did not know how to take care of the house and how to get food for my children,” she explains. 

Since the spike in violence in South Sudan in July 2016, there has been a major influx of hundreds of thousands South Sudanese refugees in northwestern Uganda, making it the lead refugee hosting country in Africa. There are more than 1 million refugees from South Sudan and DRC in Uganda. Women and children make up more than 80 percent of the refugee population. Due to the impact of the conflict on communities and households, women often take on the arduous displacement journey to seek refuge in Uganda without male relatives, carrying and caring for many children on the way. 

Things began to improve for Regina after she joined a CARE women’s group. The group knits and sews together and sells their products to both refugees and host communities in the area. With a small income from knitting and embroidery, Regina can feed her family and buy school uniforms for her children.  

Each week, the women also put aside a little money as a special welfare fund to help if someone’s child falls ill and needs medical attention. While medical treatment is free, transport to and from the clinic requires money. The village savings and loan group, which is organized by CARE, also funds loans for new initiatives the women would like to try.  

For Regina, the benefits are social as well as financial. Many of the group’s 40 women are single mothers. They meet every Sunday after church in order to knit, to sew, and to chat about issues that affect their lives including gender-based violence.  

This is the second time Regina has been a refugee in Uganda. Rhino Camp was her childhood home before returning to what was then southern Sudan when she was 8 years old. Her father died a year later, leaving her mother to raise the family alone. Regina finished school and worked as an assistant at a local clinic. Thanks to her education, she also counsels her friends and colleagues at Rhino Camp in an effort to reduce the stress and trauma experienced by many through their country’s war and the long journey to safety in Uganda. 

“With the money I earn, I would like to go back to school and extend my medical skills so that I can serve the community,” she says. “But I am not hopeful of going back to South Sudan. When there is war, there is no hope.” 

Kerstin Blidi is CARE International's Fundraising Coordinator.

In Uganda's Rhino refugee camp, South Sudanese refugees carry things for the market. Photo credit: Jakob Dall