Since the early 1940s, Uganda has been home to thousands of refugees, and as of February 28, 2022, the Country registered 1.5 million refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Burundi, and Somalia, among others, who fled their native countries due to war, conflicts, and natural disasters and have found the policies, agricultural climate, and other environments in Uganda welcoming.
To ensure these refugees and their host communities - women, men, and children - have the chance to live dignified lives, on May 9, 2023, Per Heggenes, the IKEA Foundation CEO, and Dominique Hyde, Director of External Relations at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, visited and launched the Euro 25 million Sustainable Market Inclusive Livelihood Pathways to Self-Reliance (SMILES) project during a joint mission in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, Western Uganda.
The SMILES project will work with 70,000 individuals to help them lift themselves out of poverty through access to group savings, cash grants, technical skilling, foresting linkages and referrals to critical services to support the population to afford basic needs, gain employment, expand their businesses, increase self-efficacy, increase their business and core technical skills, provide access to energy, financial services, quality input and output market to increase household economic capacity, demonstrating the IKEA Foundation’s commitment to work towards improving the lives of refugees and host community members in Uganda.
The five-year (November 2022–October 2027) IKEA Foundation-funded project will be implemented by AVSI in a consortium with Innovations for Poverty Action, REPARLE, Makerere University Kampala, DAI Global LLC, in partnership with UNHCR and the Office of the Prime Minister in Kyegegwa and Kikuube Districts in Western Uganda.
The IKEA Foundation has worked on improving the self-reliance and livelihoods of refugees and their host-communities for over a decade and we have widely shared evidence and learnings of initiatives and models that we have developed with our partners. We’re proud to be working with AVSI Foundation and other partners on another opportunity to gather evidence of a model that combines both a graduation approach focusing on the upliftment of individuals, along with a broader market systems development strategy. We hope that the success and learnings from this project will inspire other funders from the humanitarian and private sector to provide more investments to scale these models to benefit refugees and their hosting communities.Per Heggenes, The IKEA Foundation CEO.
The delegation included representatives from UNHCR, AVSI , the Kyaka II and Kyangwali Refugee Settlement Commandants, the Hoima District Refugee Desk Officer, the Office of the Prime Minister Commissioner, Kikuube and Kyegegwa District Local Governments, the SMILES project consortium partners and development partners.
Prior to the project launch, the delegation conducted a courtesy visit and briefing at the UNHCR sub-office, where they were informed about the services offered in the Kyangwali Settlement, its current capacity of 130,000 people, acreage and facilities that can host up to 200,000 people forced to flee. Additionally, the delegation learnt about the collaborations between the Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR and the 47 development partners operating in Kyangwali in emergency, education, protection, energy and environment, and livelihoods sectors to coordinate settlement initiatives, before interacting with the real field experience at the sites nominated.
Some of the persons forced to flee access the Uganda borders through Lake Albert, while others transit from the other refugee settlements by road. On their arrival we provide them with meals and non-food items such as a tarpaulin, a hand hoe and panga for farming, a water gallon, blankets, and a kitchen set. Each household is allocated a 30x30-foot piece of land on which to construct temporary shelter.Kodjo Ketevi, Head of the UNHCR Field Office in Kyangwali.
The delegation visited five sites that included the Kagoma Reception Center, three refugee-owned businesses in the food security and economic inclusion sectors; and providers of technical skills training, closing the site visits with a focus group discussion where a group of refugee and host community targeted household representatives spoke about their daily lives, their survival mechanisms and their expectations of the new project.
We met extraordinary individuals creating long-term opportunities and local enterprises who shared their stories of change that have been a push-factor for solutions in their community.Dominique Hyde, UNHCR Director of External Relations.
I had a dream of creating employment opportunities for numerous youths in the settlement. I started with farming short season crops and selling food produce, and then with the cash I saved, I purchased a grinding machine.Adrian Malemo, Founder of Malemo Food Company Limited.
The sites highlighted the crisis in countries neighboring Uganda through first-hand stories narrated by the refugees, the nature of existing support mechanisms that partners proffer as opportunities within refugee settings, the creativity and initiatives that refugees have generated to create livelihood opportunities, and the challenges related to constrained budgets and gaps that need to be addressed to provide better living conditions to refugee and host communities.
The people we work with have the critical resources needed for their growth. AVSI Foundation ensures the provision of a push to self-reliance. The SMILES project is a formidable partnership that we will undertake with confidence as we derive the learnings from previous projects such as our USAID-Graduating to Resilience.John Makoha, AVSI Uganda Country Representative.
Per Heggenes highlighted the background of the IKEA Foundation, its values, working with the private sector, the significance of the partners in their areas of expertise in bringing about the impact intended, and the importance of empowering refugees to rebuild their lives and ensure they can live life just like anyone else.
Signing of the signature board was marked by an invitation by Matthew Crentsil, the UNHCR Country Representative, an activity that signified the official launch of the Sustainable Market Inclusive Livelihood Pathways to Self-Reliance (SMILES) project in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement.
Through this mission and ultimately the project launch, AVSI and the SMILES Project partners are building strategic relationships with our critical stakeholders from the Government of Uganda and the private sector. We continue to learn the new innovations to improve our intervention approaches for better outcomes for refugees and the host communities. We reaffirm our commitment to this exciting partnership.Jordan Canocakacon, SMILES Project Chief of Party.