At a rented facility in Senior Quarters, Gulu’s upscale residential area, the girls numbering twenty two work every week day to make top quality bags. Equipped with industrial tailoring machines each of the girls make at least three bags a day for which they are paid 7,000 shillings for every bag they make.
Several girls and women in Gulu town who were formerly abducted by LRA rebels have become producers of top quality designer bags that are highly sought after on the western market.
For each of the former LRA captives who got the opportunity to return home, months of counseling at a rehabilitation center was mandatory. During that time, they were assisted to go through trauma counseling and some basic training in life skills however, soon after they left the centers, if was a life of each one for oneself and God for us all.
While few have managed to get along, majority faced daunting setbacks coupled with stigmatization.
Richard Nyeko, a staff of Invisible Children, a charity organization operating in Acholi sub region says it’s upon this background that the organization initiated Mend, a bag making project where the formerly abducted girls-turned child mothers were recruited, trained on tailoring skills and equipped with modern tailoring machines.
At a rented facility in Senior Quarters, Gulu’s upscale residential area, the girls numbering twenty two work every week day to make top quality bags. Equipped with industrial tailoring machines each of the girls make at least three bags a day for which they are paid 7,000 shillings for every complete bag.
Nyeko, a Trainer and Supervisor at the facility says that the women work from 9am to 4pm with tea and lunch breaks in between. He explained that each seamstress is paid 7,000 shillings from every bag they make with each making an average of three bags every day. He said currently all the bags ranging from Backpack, Canvass Tote, Cross Body Totes, Cinch and Laptop bags are produced for export adding that the demand from the western market mainly USA where each is sold at around 65 to 75 dollars. He adds that the facility exports 500 pieces per month but can hardly satisfy the overwhelming demand.
Nyeko adds that soon, they would start producing for the local market but said the dwindling textile industry and increased cost of the materials means the product would be expensive. The bags are made from canvas supplied by NYTIL and are fitted with leather label and other imported accessories.
At facility, inside the sewing rooms is a beehive of activity as the girls go about working on the bags. Each tells a success story of how the formerly abducted girls have managed to fend for their families using their earning from the bag making project. Twenty eight year old Rose Aber is a mother of four children. She explains that in the last three years she has worked at the Invisible Children’s mend project, she has managed to fend for her family of four children; bought two bicycles to ease her in transport, acquired land, built a semi permanent house and enrolled for further studies.
Aber says that she is determined to ensure that she improves her education further than she was when the rebels abducted her many years ago. She explains that the years she wasted while in captivity would not deter her from turning her life around. Currently pursuing adult literacy in primary seven, Aber has her children immediately behind her in primary six, four and primary one classes.
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Not far from the Invisible Children’s bag-making facility is St Monica Girls’ Tailoring school, another institution where several girls who returned from LRA rebel captivity undergo vocational training. Here, the girls are also taught how to make bags except with different materials – beverage Can tops.
Evelyn Among, one of the women at the centre said she has benefited from the skills training she acquired since returning from captivity in 2005. Among is one of the girls who were forced to become wives to LRA rebel leader, Joseph Kony.
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, the director of the Institution said the school pays one hundred thousand shillings to the students for each piece of a complete bag made from can tops. She explained that the initiative has not only helped to rid the environment of waste but also improved the life of the girls. Nyirumbe, a CNN Hero Award winner said she exports all the bags for sale and would only begin local production next month.
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Evelyn Lapat, a social counselor at Invisible Children’s mend project observed that vocational training was the best way to provide support to the formerly abducted children who are battling the process to fit back into the community.
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Although the number is not certain, various reports including by Unicef say thousands of children in northern Uganda were abducted by the LRA rebels and while others are yet unaccounted for, those who have since returned home continue to struggle with reintegration.
girls formerly abducted by lra rebels
st monica girls tailoring school
sister rosemary nyirumbe