"In April 2015, a political crisis broke in my home country Burundi. This marked the beginning of an agonizing time. My father was killed and all our property razed to the ground. In a bid to save our lives, we run and didn’t look back. Unfortunately, I lost my wife and two children amid the chaos. I crossed the border to Uganda and was able to trace my wife. Sadly, she had lost track of our sons. We couldn’t turn back and decided to cross the Kenyan border to Kakuma refugee camp where we got assistance. This is a snippet of my life," says 28-year-old Armel Ndamage.
While in Burundi, Armel was involved in several odd jobs. He used to run his own small business that saw him bake bread, cakes and Swahili Buns commonly referred to as mandazi from his house and walk around town selling them. He formed an interest in mechanical engineering and enrolled for a course to learn how to fix cars and motorcycles.
‘When I got to Kakuma camp, I realised there were no jobs available in the mechanical field. I was not used to living under hardship conditions and initially found it hard to adjust. One day while walking aimlessly in the camp, I heard a mass recruitment announcement urging people to sign up for the Swisscontact trainings to learn a skill,’ recalls Armel.
Armel opted to join the bakery learning group in June 2018. He selected bakery as a second resort as the motor vehicle learning group was already full. "Since I used to bake in Burundi, I figured I could learn something new and use it to my advantage. I am the only man in the learning group which comprises 25 ladies. My peers around the camp constantly laugh at me and call me names but I am focussed on my future and see this opportunity as a stepping stone to improving my life. I have learnt to bake a variety of snacks like muffins, marble cakes, Swiss rolls, Chinese buns, American donuts, farmers’ rolls and tea scones."
On an ordinary day, Armel attends class from 8.00 a.m. As a learning group, they bake several snacks with guidance from their instructor and take turns going round the camp to sell their produce. On a good day, almost all snacks are sold and the seller responsible brings the monies made back to the group. The seller is then paid CHF 0.50 as an appreciation for the effort made. "We have been taught about the concept of mavuno group savings and together with seven other determined members, we have established our own group. Each individual saves CHF 0.50 weekly which cumulatively translates into CHF 15.86 per month for the group."
Once the learning group session winds up at noon, Armel tries to find odd jobs to do so he can be able to take home some money for upkeep for his wife and new born child. He often rents a motorcycle from a friend and uses it to ferry people and goods or buys second-hand clothes and tries to sell them at a profit. On an average, he is able to make between CHF 0.69 and CHF 0.99 a day.
"I plan to use the skills I get from the training to make a variety of snacks for sale around the camp. If all goes well, I would like to open the biggest café in Kakuma town. I will not limit my sales to the café but will empower my peers by employing them to sell my snacks by foot around the camp so that even those who cannot access my café, will be able to consume my products. Right now, I want to focus on getting the most out of the training which ends in August 2018 so that I become the best baker in the camp. I regularly pen down all my recipes in a book so that my child can learn the skill in future even when I am not there."
The "Skills for life" project in Kakuma is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by Swisscontact.
The approach of the project is strongly focused on the local market opportunities and enabling the trainees to immediately generate income out of the skills acquired.