Agnes Makankusi

ORUCHINGA, Isingiro, April 15 (HIJRA) – Just below the highway, in Kibwera center, which leads to Kikagata; the Ugandan-Tanzanian border in Isingiro district, is a house. The house is actually three detached bungalows surrounding a makeshift shed that covers the small dirt compound.

Hidden under the wood and tent like covering that makes the shed, is a small class of four girls, each seated at their individual sewing machine. The only sounds heard are the chatter of the sewing machine, and the frequent but spaced remarks made by their teacher. She walks from girl to girl watching as the girls attempt to make a uniform out of a green cotton cloth.

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Agnes demonstrating a measuring technique to one of her students

One of these girls is Tumwebaze Aidah. She is 18 years old, and she just completed her Primary 7 last year at Kibwera Primary School. Aidah is a focused girl who wants to be a designer. For her, and her classmates, Agnes, her teacher, is the first step to achieving her dream.

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Aidah sewing a dress

Agnes Mukankusi is an expert tailor who learnt her trade in Rwanda. When she was about 17 years old, the genocide began.

“I ran away from home and went to Tanzania”, Agnes narrates. “I spent two years in Tanzania living in a camp. In 1996, I hoped and heard that Rwanda was safe, so I went back”, she reflects.

However, to her disappointment, Rwanda was far from safe. The country was still unsettled, and unsafe. “Theft was rampant and this made the conditions unbearable”, she explains. This is when, Agnes came to Uganda, and was settled in Oruchinga settlement camp, which is where she still lives.

When HIJRA began its Livelihoods programme in 2014, Agnes was among the 6 refugee groups to benefit from the Vocational Skills training, which aims to train refugees in a variety of vocational trades and provide them with startup kits to enable them to make a living.

Agnes was awarded a startup kit of four sewing machines. From this, she sold her designs, and started passing on her knowledge to young girls; both nationals and refugees. This continuous flow of customers and students has enabled her to construct a house, which acts as a store for her other machines, and a classroom. “I have been able to educate my 2 children on what I earn from this business”, she adds.

Agnes’s daughter, Muhawenimana Petronilla, helps her with the business when she from school and on holiday. “I am very proud of my mother and I am inspired by her hardwork”’ Petronilla says, as she looks lovingly at her mother. However, she has no desire to be a tailor like her mother. “I love her but I do not want to be a tailor”, she says jokingly, “I want to be a nurse”.

Agnes is very happy with what she has been able to achieve, but she is focusing on bigger goals. “I want to construct a training school, where many more girls may come and learn, and have skills to enable them to achieve what I have achieved and more”, she said passionately. She also wants to give back to her community, by contributing to its development.

This year, more refugees will benefit from this programme.

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