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Papyrus and scrap paper: a monthly blessing for refugee women in Uganda

News Stories, 14 March 2013

© UNHCR/K.Mahoney
A young Ugandan woman stamps expiration dates on the bottom of hand-packaged MakaPad packets.

KAWEMPE, Uganda, March 14 (UNHCR) Rosette Akaliybo, a 37-year-old Congolese refugee, sits quietly at a wooden table with three men, each young enough to be her son, doing what many would consider a most unusual job.

"This is my first official job in Kampala," says the single mother of two as she stuffs 10 sanitary napkins into MakaPad's signature green packaging at the company plant in Kawempe. It is the firm's biggest production site of Africa's first hand-made hygiene product made from local materials.

Rosette is one of 150 employees of the MakaPad factory here in Kawempe, a few kilometres south of the Ugandan capital. She is also one of four refugees and the first woman refugee selected to participate in a new pilot project that trains and employs urban refugees.

"I walk two hours each morning to come to work and two hours to get home," she says. "It's not easy, but I can't afford to pay for transport."

Six members of her extended family depend on her salary. As one of nearly 70,000 urban refugees in Kampala, she appreciates the opportunity she's been given.

Rosette's job is the result of an innovative partnership between two seemingly strange bedfellows: an engineering professor and the UN refugee agency.

"Being a man, I'd never even seen a sanitary pad," confesses MakaPad's founding engineer, Moses Musaazi, looking over the now busy production line, which uses locally grown papyrus. "Then at a meeting one day, a lady took a pad out of her bag and threw it at me. I thought it was a joke." It wasn't.

It was 12 years ago when researchers from Kampala's Makerere University and the United States-based Rockefeller Foundation explained to Musaazi that girls were missing up to three days of school every month-and even dropping out-simply because they could not afford the high cost of sanitary products. Even those girls who stayed in school were falling behind.

Musaazi took on the daunting challenge of inventing an inexpensive and biodegradable sanitary napkin made from local materials. Using his wife and daughter as guinea pigs for his prototype absorbent designs, Musaazi discovered the perfect ratio of papyrus and shredded scrap paper, which he collected free from UN agencies and embassies in Kampala.

Flash forward to 2013: the company is producing nearly 4 million MakaPads a year at three different production sites across Uganda, including one inside a refugee settlement in the south-east. The MakaPad name is an acronym for menstruation, administration, knowledge and affordability.

The company's biggest fan might come as a bit of a surprise. "UNHCR is MakaPad's biggest customer," Musaazi says. It buys 90 per cent of production for some 55,000 women and girls of reproductive age in Uganda among the 190,000 refugees in the country.

The UN refugee agency began buying from MakaPad because of the opportunity to give jobs to refugees while also procuring environmentally-friendly products to help keep girls in school.

Seven years ago, the company opened a production site in Kyaka II refugee settlement in south-east Uganda that today is run by a refugee and employs more than 50 of them.

In February, MakaPad and UNHCR launched a new pilot project to train and employ Kampala refugees at the Kawempe site. And for MakaPad's general manager, Juliette Nakibuule, refugees are more than welcome.

"Here at MakaPad, refugees acquire skills and earn an income," Nakibuule explains. "We hope to train more refugees on a monthly basis and we want at least 20-30 refugees to work here."

Nakibuule wants to make her company's product a big hit with the Ugandan public, not just with UNHCR. "We want to be the first pad out of 35 available in stores that is 90 per cent biodegradable with no chemical additives," she says. Eventually she'd like to expand beyond Uganda's borders as well.

And after one week of work, what does Rosette think?

"It will take time to get the experience that I need to work quickly and to earn more money," she says. "But it will be okay because I am making an effort and I am motivated."

By Kathryn Mahoney in Kawempe, Uganda




A Time Between: Moving on from Internal Displacement in Uganda

This document examines the situation of IDPs in Acholiland in northern Uganda, through the stories of individuals who have lived through conflict and displacement.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Jean de Dieu, from the Central African Republic (CAR), was on his way to market in mid-January when he was shot. The 24-year-old shepherd and his family had fled their country two months earlier and sought refuge on an island in the Oubangui River belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes Jean crossed back to check on his livestock, but last week his luck ran out when he went to take an animal to market. A few hours later, in an improvised operating room in Dula, a Congolese border town on the banks of the Oubangui, medics fight to save his life.

Jean's situation is not unique. Over the past two years, war in the Central African Republic has driven more than 850,000 people from their homes. Many have been attacked as they fled, or killed if they tried to return. In neighbouring DRC, medical resources are being stretched to their limits.

Photographer Brian Sokol, on assignment for UNHCR, captured the moment when Jean and others were rushed into the operating theatre. His images bear witness to desperation, grief, family unity and, ultimately, a struggle for survival.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province have long referred to the region between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto as the "triangle of death." Despite the presence of UN peace-keepers and government military successes in other parts of the country, the situation in the resources-rich Katanga has been getting worse over the past two years. Conflict between a secessionist militia group and the government and between the Luba (Bantu) and Twa (Pygmy) ethnic groups has left thousands dead and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 people since 2012, including over 70,000 in the last three months. UNHCR has expressed its "deep concern" about the "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in northern Katanga. The violence includes widescale looting and burning of entire villages and human rights' violations such as murder, mass rape and other sexual violence, and the forced military recruitment of children.

The limited presence of humanitarian and development organizations is a serious problem, leading to insufficient assistance to displaced people who struggle to have access to basic services. There are 28 sites hosting the displaced in northern Katanga and many more displaced people live in host communities. While UNHCR has built some 1,500 emergency shelters since January, more is needed, including access to health care, potable water, food and education. The following striking photographs by Brian Sokol for UNHCR show some of the despair and suffering.

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

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