UNDP and KOICA Empowering Refugees and Host Communities in Northern Uganda

Posted January 18, 2022

In 2016, the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) emphasized the need for humanitarian and development sectors to collaborate effectively with multi-year planning frameworks. During the summit, it was agreed that short-term or emergency support from a single actor can only achieve limited stability in the humanitarian sector and cannot pursue the ultimate recovery, resilience or development outcomes. The Humanitarian-Development-Peace (HDP) Nexus was thus established with the belief that no single actor can fully deliver the required response.

As such, many humanitarian actors, implementing organizations and donor institutions have proactively adopted the HDP Nexus framework. As the leading development agency among the United Nations family, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is committed to advancing human development, create opportunities for empowerment, support nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet and improve the quality of life for all citizens.

The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the Republic of Korea’s international aid organization, has also endorsed the HDP Nexus framework in humanitarian support and prioritized it to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

It is under this backdrop that UNDP and KOICA have designed and implemented the “Uganda Host and Refugee Community Empowerment” project in three districts of Lamwo, Adjumani and Obongi in Northern Uganda. The project was designed against the HDP Nexus framework and adopted UNDP’s 3x6 approach, an innovative UNDP programme approach promoting sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable and crisis-affected groups, such as those affected by disasters or conflict. The approach is based on traditional components of employment generation and livelihoods promotion, including a) Generating immediate income; b) Injecting capital into the local economy; and c) Providing opportunities for diversified livelihoods.

Image: Project Design – Building Resilience Through Jobs and Livelihoods

Development challenges being addressed

From the project designing phase, key stakeholders were engaged to identify existing gaps and challenges to address in the region, plan for long-term community empowerment, and maintain close partnerships during implementation. As a result, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and trauma issues were identified as critical areas to address to achieve community livelihood empowerment. Environmental degradation was another key challenge in the region, with many community members cutting down trees to source firewood.

As the project entered its third year of implementation, outcomes became visible. UNDP’s intervention conveyed long-term livelihood changes of the target communities by connecting short to mid-term inputs made by various players and adding integrated responses to the crisis. Behavioral and mindset changes were observed at all corners of the project including beneficiaries, community leaders, local government leaders, and implementing partners during a recent UNDP-KOICA joint monitoring visit in November 2021. 

Image: The Monitoring Mission team, including UNDP, KOICA, Adjumani Local Government, and implementation partners

Hellen’s Story: A holistic approach to strengthen economic resilience

Hellen Ayany is a South Sudanese Refugee who fled to Uganda in 2017 during the war in South Sudan. She is 40 years old and has four children along with two more dependents living in Palabek Settlement in Lamwo. Hellen’s story of resilience began in 2017 when she lost all her property, was separated from her husband during the war, and has been left as the sole caregiver for six dependents.

After arriving in Uganda, Hellen tried to sustain a life for her family, though it wasn’t easy. As the UNDP-KOICA project was initiated, Hellen could find more income opportunities than before. She has participated in the Cash-for-Work community road opening activity and saved the income by joining Village Saving and Loans Associations (VSLAs). She also opened a small retail shop with the capital of 500,000 Ugandan shillings ($141 USD) and was also selected as a small start-up business grantee, receiving an additional 430,000 shillings to boost her retail business. 

However, even with all the support received, Hellen was often not motivated to go to the shop. Trauma from the war in South Sudan has limited her ability to work.

The psycho-social support and trauma healing session are the key components of the project and have trained community facilitators and others. The chairwoman of VSLA, who was trained in Problem Management Plus (PM+), a World Health Organization (WHO) trans-diagnostic psychological intervention, recognized Hellen’s condition and engaged her in the trauma healing sessions. Hellen shared her experience of how psychosocial support helped her achieve economic improvement.

“I learned that I can speak out and share my problems with friends and neighbors I can trust. That’s the first step of problem-solving,” said Hellen. “Once I share my thoughts and memories from the past, the heavy feeling pressuring my chest is lifted. The more I share, the more I feel light. When I feel down or have household problems, I go to the chairwoman or neighbors. If I am so down and can’t visit somebody, they come to me, checking on me. This psychosocial support helped me to be motivated and maintain my life well. My kids are happier than ever. They see me as active and learning. They are even doing better in school.”

Image: Hellen at her retail store

Local Government invested in community livelihoods

Adjumani District hosts the highest number of refugee settlements (18) in Uganda and Ukusijoni is one of the refugee-hosting sub-counties in the district. The sub-county was selected as the UNDP-KOICA project site, and sub-county officials have been working closely together with the project implementation partner, World Vision, and UNDP. Being part of the project and going through project planning and implementation together with UNDP, World Vision, and KOICA was a total learning process. The sub-county officials were able to connect with various development partners and district officials, properly assess the needs, gaps and opportunities in the communities, and reflect them within development plans of the sub-county. 

Image: Monitoring meeting with UNDP, Ukusijoni Sub-County and World Vision.

Testimonies from community leaders

The Sub-County Chairman, Mr. Arambe Dominic, testified that the community access road opening made the most substantial impact. Road accessibility is crucial for the quality of the community’s livelihood. The accessibility to the community facilities, such as health facilities, schools, food distribution points, and others can be improved with just a 500 meter road. However, opening the new road requires hard labor, and people are reluctant to participate in such activities, which makes it difficult even for humanitarian actors to mobilize participants. For this reason, most humanitarian partners focused on road condition improvement. 

Image: Sub-County Chairman Mr. Arambe Dominic

“In 2020, UNDP came and linked the road opening as one of the Cash-for-Work activities,” said the Sub-Country Chairman. “Since the participants will have guaranteed cash income, community people were willing to participate in the road opening work. A 1.2km community access road was opened and connects Kiraba village people to Ukusijoni Health Center III, the sub-county office, and other strategic community points. Also, it connects the Kiraba community people with the Maaji II refugee settlement.”

“The increased interaction between host and refugee communities helped boost the economic trades and generate household income. After witnessing the life-changing experience, we plan ourselves where the next roads will be opened and how to mobilize and allocate the budget. We also share this experience with other peer officials and partners. Once the roads are manually opened, the other partners with compaction machines, such as UNHCR, come and widen the road. It’s a collective action.”

Image: Kiraba community access road (1.2km)

The Sub-County Chairman added that the Kiraba road (1.2km) has earned Ukusijoni a youth resource which will be constructed by Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) under Ministry of Land, Housing, and Urban Development, with funding from the World Bank. USMID has been conducting the construction feasibility study in Adjumani. The sub-county officials strongly addressed the improved accessibility via the Kiraba road and upcoming road work plans, which convinced and attracted the investment.

“The community people are pleased with all the progress achieved, and the strong trust that has been established between the local government and the communities. We will do our best to keep up this momentum. As we closely connected with the other partners via this project, we shall be keen to find and bring the resources to our sub-county. We now know where the gaps are, where to improve, and what to do.”

By Sooyoung Choi, Project Coordination and Liaison Officer, UNDP