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The Story of the Refugee Women of Kyangwali

In April 2019, Uganda Biodiversity Fund (UBF) gave a small grant of US$ 35,029 to Raising Gabdho Foundation Limited to carry out a project titled Green Clubs Energy Project in and around the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. The goal of the project was to contribute towards Climate Change adaptation and resilience around Bugoma Central Forest Reserve. By the end of the project, it was hoped that the community would have adopted alternative sources of energy and energy efficient technologies. This was not only a small grant but also an extremely short term project having started on 12th April 2019 and ended on 31st August 2019, i.e. only four months of field activity. It is however quite amazing what was done in this short period of time with very little funding.

So as to understand what was pertaining in the community, a Rapid awareness survey was conducted at the very beginning of the project. The survey report indicated that communities were aware of the effects of deforestation; however, they were not aware of the alternative energy sources that would mitigate climate change. An end of project survey was duly conducted in the same area, which indicated that the level of knowledge about the alternative energy sources that will contribute to mitigation of climate change had increased to by approximately 50%. This was no mean feat considering the shortness of time for project implementation.

In order to bring the refugee community on board within a very short time and have an impact on their thinking regarding biodiversity conservation, awareness campaigns, both through radio and community Barraza campaigns, focused on the effects of deforestation & use of improved energy technologies. The community campaigns also highlighted the benefits of sustainable char briquette production, consumption and environmental conservation activities and interventions.

One of the aims of the project was to improve the livelihood of the women and in order to do this, Raising Gabdho decided on developing a local market chain based on improved cook stoves and briquette making. The women would be the producers, the schools and general community would be the consumers and therefore the buyers.

The young ones in the community also needed to be brought on board because these would be the future community leaders wherever they went. And so, beginning with schools – debates were organised about deforestation and its effects and the winners were rewarded with char briquettes, improved stoves and t-shirts with messages about deforestation. Six schools were then chosen in which improved cook stoves were constructed.
In order to ensure that the market chain would operate effectively, the primary producers had to be identified and trained. Thus, eight women groups were chosen, trained and equipped with the necessary tools.
They started producing the briquettes, which created a market chain with the schools demanding briquettes and the women producing them for sale.
The women were also able to produce small sized ones for domestic consumption, which they could personally use in their homes, and also sell the excess to the neighbourhood, thus earning some extra income.
Another strategy to save on fuel and give women more time to do the briquette business was found in introduction of a Cooking Basket. This was tested in some of the homes and proved so exciting to most of the members.

“We really want to have that basket in our homes, it will save us a lot of time. Before we go to the gardens, we prepare meals for the kids that stay home and we have to wait until the food is before we can go farming.” Tumaine Sarah, Tuterimbere Women’s Group, Kagoma Village.

This project was very timely considering that the refugee camp administration, together with the Local Councils had just passed a bye-law prohibiting the gathering of green wood from the natural forest, instituting punitive measures on all those caught doing so. Fuel wood was thus becoming more and more scarce, and dangerous to have, amongst the communities.

Where to from here?

By the time the project came to its conclusion, the dynamics were beginning to change, calling into play adaptive management skills.

Tontema Primary School is one of the schools in the host community that was supported with an improved institutional cook stove. The school feeds over 500 pupils with breakfast and lunch.

This school was informed about the alternative energy sources and the wastes that would be needed to produce char briquettes. They immediately went to work to collect a stock of bio wastes. The same school was approached by the community with a request for training in alternative energy sources. It is hoped that this school will become a centre for such training for the entire community.
Schools were opting to be trained so that they could produce their own briquettes. This, while good, would disrupt the community focused market chain targeted at improving community livelihoods, especially of the women. A middle ground position had to be found, it was proposed to the schools with environmental clubs to have the club members be the ones trained in briquette production process so that the school buys from the club hence creating awareness among the pupils and consequently their families, while promoting the alternative energy sources and positively impacting livelihoods. For the women groups briquette production business, other corporate bodies within the areas were contacted and were ready to purchase the product.

The RGF project focused only on one village, but the need was huge because of the increasing refugee population. It was recommended to scale up this project to the village where the new arrivals are settled. By the start of the project in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, the human population was at 83,000. Within five (5) months, the population had increased to over 110,000. Thus the impact on the natural forest and the destruction on the environment was increasing and action needed to be taken immediately.

With funding, the next phase of the project will support establishment of woodlots for schools and households. The woodlots would supply not only building materials but fuel wood and biomass for char briquette making. It is envisaged that planting of Bamboo as a source of construction materials and biomass for briquettes would provide a quick solution to the energy problem in the short term since it grows within six (6) months. The currently source of biomass for briquette making is grass, maize cobs and stalks, groundnut shells, leftovers from the harvests. This is seasonal, pointing to the need for planned biomass production.

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