The Palabek Refugee Settlement is currently home to 34,000 people. It was officially set up in April 2016 to reduce congestion in larger refugee camps in the northwestern corner of Uganda. Several agencies are involved in providing food and education within Palabek.
Salesian missionaries at the settlement are offering much-needed psychosocial support and pastoral care for thousands of Christian residents. They also operate four nursery schools that educate more than 1,000 children. In addition, there are over 700 children attending Salesian primary and secondary schools and more than 700 families that are supported by various other initiatives.
Salesian missionaries launched the new vocational training center to offer life skills and other training to help young refugees prepare for employment. Thousands of refugees, representatives of non-governmental organizations and a government delegation participated in the opening ceremonies celebrating the center.
Young refugees will be able to attend vocational training courses for free. Depending on the discipline, some courses will run for 3-6 months while others will run as long as a year. Salesian missionaries have also set up a job placement office which will help students make contact with companies that are hiring, prepare resumes and prep for interviews and find internships and on-site training opportunities.
“Vocational training is critical to help these young refugees adapt to their new surroundings and prepare for the future,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Through the new vocational training, youth will be able to give themselves and their families social stability and improve their living conditions.”
Salesian missionaries arrived at the Palabek Refugee Settlement in June 2017. At the start, the precariousness of the situation forced Salesian missionaries to live in huts with the refugees. Eventually, they built simple rooms, sanitation and water facilities, small structures for gatherings and various chapels and schools for children.
Close to 67 percent of Ugandans are either poor or highly vulnerable to poverty, according to UNICEF. While the country has seen some economic growth as well as improvement in its Human Development Index ranking over the last 20 years, the country still ranks near the bottom at 163 out of 188 countries. After decades of war left many displaced, the people of Uganda face many significant challenges as they work to rebuild their country.
Uganda’s literacy rate has improved with 73 percent of the population literate but only 23 percent of Ugandans go on to acquire a secondary education. According to UNICEF, one of the biggest challenges in the country is combating the serious increase of HIV/AIDS that has left millions of children orphaned.