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S.Sudan refugees rebuild their lives, one stitch at a time

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By JONATHAN KAMOGA
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Nicholas Ngota’s dream of becoming a journalist seemed to to be coming true when he got a job as a young reporter and anchor at a local radio station in South Sudan’s Kajukeji village in Yei River State.

The opportunity to get a platform to practise what he had always wanted to do since his early secondary school days, had finally presented itself.

“I wanted to practise the profession at the highest level and maybe become a correspondent for one of the international news agencies. I said to myself that if I ever made it there, I would have made it in life,” the tall, muscular 24-year-old Ngota says with a smile on his face.

His dream was, however, cut short by the second breakout of the civil war in 2016 when a power-sharing deal between President Salva Kiir and his Dr Riek Machar failed.

President Kiir had earlier in 2013 sacked Dr Machar as first deputy president, accusing him and 10 others of planning a coup, plunging the world’s youngest country into a war that has seen over a million refugees flee into neighbouring countries.

Ngota is just one of those who in 2016 came and settled in Rhino camp’s Siripi settlement in Uganda’s district of Arua.

Ngota’s plight worsened when the war, which had already taken on a distinctly ethnic dimension reached his home town, which had until then been peaceful.

In a statement in November 2016, the head of the UN Commission of Human Rights in the country, Yasmin Sooka, at the end of a visit noted that there was a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages. The government dismissed the allegations.

Ngota said government forces raided villages, tortured and killed people in the night and reporting about such incidents became risky for journalists like him.

“Most of the roads started sporting roadblocks. You would wake up to find the dead body of a friend you talked to only last night,” he said sinking his face in his palms.

“When we reported about it, we got numerous threats of arrest and for those who were arrested; the chances of survival were minimal.”

The decision to leave the country came when he became a wanted man after reading about a group of people killed by government soldiers, who were burnt using plastics to stoke the flames.
For about two weeks, with his younger brother and sister, they trekked to Uganda, leaving their parents behind. To this day, they have not communicated with them.
“We were not used to sleeping like this. We used to have enough food, but we lost all our property, clothes… everything,” he says.

Now Ngota, the former journalist, is pursuing a six-month course in catering at the youth skills development centre in Siripi camp, a new career he hopes will help him turn around his fortunes and also fend for his siblings.

Ngota is one of the 100 students studying vocational skills at the centre, which teaches mainly tailoring, catering, welding and building construction to refugees and students from the host community.

The enthusiasm at the school is evident in the classrooms; the busy students are so intent on their curriculum they even fail to notice a new entrant.

“Sometimes, we have to remind some that it is lunchtime,” an instructor said.

Even in courses like carpentry, welding and building construction, which many would see as appealing to only men, you will find female students like 22-year-old Lucy Lenia.

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Siripi centre is run by German NGO Welthungerhilfe and received funding from Belgium’s Enabel through the $6.5 million European Union Trust Fund for Africa’s support programme for refugee settlements in northern Uganda.

The fund is designed to support 70 per cent refugees and 30 per cent of the host community.

Most of the refugee students are former professionals in different fields and business people but because of the new challenges life threw at them.

They are all trying out something new in order to either survive in the shortrun or approach life after the camp with a new skills set.

Take 25-year-old Joseph Lomoro for example, a father of two who back in Langa, Central Equatorial, used to import merchandise for a wholesale shop he jointly owned with his brother with whom he escaped to Uganda.

As the war raged on, their lives came under threat when gunmen looted their shop and on several occasions tried to kidnap one of them for ransom.

Finally, their premises were destroyed by a suspected arsonist.

Under the tree where the carpentry class is holding a practical lesson on this hot afternoon, Mr Lomoro is sawing a piece of wood with a serious look on his face.

“This is all I can do now. During the war, we lost a business that was worth $25,000 and here we are with nothing completely. I cannot just sit in the camp when there is an opportunity to learn something new that could help me,” he says.

While his brother, who too has a wife and two children, does not seem to have woken up to their newfound reality, Mr Lomoro says that given the reduced food rations provided by the UN World Food Programme, they may not be able to feed their families if the situation does not change for the better.

With a small start-up kit promised at the end of the course by the centre, Mr Lomoro does not think he will return to their wholesaling business because “it is impossible to start again.”

He has made up his mind to start off by making or repairing furniture for people in the camp until peace is restored in his homeland.

Whereas the initial employment opportunity for the Siripi students is the camp itself and neighbouring towns, many hope that the skills they learn will be a starting point when they return home.
According to Geoffrey Droma the principal of the centre, most of his former students work in neighbouring towns after industrial training.
“We follow up on them when they go for industrial training at private enterprises in other towns. A large number of them are retained. Others work in groups like the tailors and construction, offering their skills in the camps,” Mr Droma said.
Even with the South Sudanese warring factions agreeing to a ceasefire and signing yet another power-sharing agreement last month, most of these who have worked here are not yet willing to return home until the situation stabilises.

Mr Ngota, for example, is no longer interested in doing journalism, saying he does not expect the situation for journalists like him to get any better.
He wants to excel in his new field of study, hospitality.

“They will still be looking for journalists to silence, so I do not think of going back now. I want to work here, make some money and when I have enough and realise the situation is okay back home, my siblings and I will go back and maybe I will open a restaurant,” he says.

Mr Lomoro too does not plan to revive his wholesale business any more. He believes that it would take a lot of time and money, which he does not have, to build the kind and size of enterprise he and his brother owned.

He has opted for carpentry but first, he has to master his art here in Uganda and will not move back home yet, for “war could still break out.”

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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