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The Resilience and Innovation of Refugee VSLAs in Kampala During COVID-19

At the beginning of the Second Wave of COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda, most people’s businesses were brought to a halt as the country put measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Uwamusho Group, a refugee VSLA formed and supported by IST with support from UN Women, shared how they managed to navigate and survive the harsh effects of the lockdown on their business, families and livelihood.

PHOTO: Uwamusho Group, a refugee VSLA formed and supported by IST with support from UN Women

“Our group is made up of 30 members who are mostly Congolese. The lockdown affected our businesses as most of the group members hawk jewellery, African fabric (bitenge) and the others are doing tailoring and hairdressing. Our businesses were put to a standstill leaving us with no source of income to fend for our families. As hawkers, we tried to continue selling our items in the city centre but we were told by law enforcers that no one was allowed in the city centre. Faced with challenges of transportation and stagnant businesses, we had to find creative ways on how to survive.” Said Edwige Bushunde the Uwamusho Group President.

She added that, “Prior to the lockdown, we had been trained by IST with support from UN Women in business, financial literacy and transformational leadership. While most of the members were coming up with ways on how to survive, IST supported each group member with a cash transfer of 287,500 shillings per person. Indeed, this cash transfer was a silver lining in a dark cloud. It was at this point that most of the group members decided to switch their businesses from jewellery to selling fast-moving food items which were considered as essential items. The group members started selling silver fish and maize flour which were the most consumed in the lockdown.”

To ensure sustainability of the group post-lockdown, the group agreed to contribute part of their cash transfer to the group savings. Edwige said, “Every member contributed 50,000 shillings to the group savings and because most members became innovative to earn income and stay afloat, we have managed to save up to 1,300,000 shillings in savings and we are also able to lend out money at low interest rates.”

Members in the group have exhibited cooperation through saving and working together to achieve their dreams. The savings made by members is geared towards renting a bigger space where training for young women in hairdressing and tailoring will take place. Edwige added that their group aspires to expand their business so that they can have a one stop shop centre for all types of Congolese fabric in Kampala. She concluded by saying, “We formed this group so we can empower ourselves and also empower the young women in our communities. That is why we would like to start giving them skills in tailoring and hair dressing.”