PTPL Closes Vocational Training Program in Refugee Camp

After 10 years of operating a vocational school for young adults in the Nyanarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania, PTPL decided to close the program in September 2012. We were forced to make that decision because the Tanzanian government is no longer allowing our school to operate effectively in the camp.

Ongoing Challenges for the Vocational Training Program

From its inception, instability of the camp economy and difficulty of obtaining supplies have been a concern. The graduates also have had difficulty acquiring the appropriate tools in order to use the skills they acquired in the vocational school.

PTPL Representative Visit Reveals Additional Problems

Our board became very concerned about the school towards the end of 2011 when we did not receive the scheduled reports from Nyarugusu. During the summer of 2012, our director, Bahekelwa Imatha, added a visit to the refugee camp in Tanazania to a previously scheduled trip to the Congo.

Travel to the refugee camp was a long and arduous process, but very enlightening. Inside the camp, Imatha found very basic living conditions, but the people appeared to be healthy and to have access to food. He also found the remains of the vocational school supported by PTPL. The roof had been burned away. Only a few carpentry students and their instructor remained. The other programs and equipment had vanished except for the sewing machines, which were not being used.

Director Imatha learned that beginning in April 2011, the Tanzanian government banned lucrative activity in the camp, with the exception of gardening to supplement the food supply. Since then refugees’ lives have been much more restricted. This appears to be part of a plan to encourage the refugees to voluntarily return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo or to resettle elsewhere. However, many refugees still fear for their safety, especially in the Congolese villages. 

History of the Program

In 2002 PTPL opened a woodworking vocational school for 20 young adults based in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania. Its goal was to prepare Congolese refugees to achieve self-sufficiency by learning skills to enable them to support themselves. 

The vocational training program gradually grew to include five main skills for young men and women: carpentry, sewing and knitting, baking, soap making, and batik. In March of 2006, PTPL helped the school buy two additional sewing machines, making a total of five machines. In 2007, the soap shop and a batik fabric dyeing shop were added.

During 2010, PTPL sent $1800 to the vocational school. The money was used to pay for salaries for teachers and security guards and for supplies for the school.

Products sold also provided income for program expenses.

The vocational school report from 2010 gives an idea of the extent of the program:

  • The Carpentry group averaged 35 student per quarter who produced numerous chairs, tables, stools, beds, photo frames and even windows.   
  • The Sewing and Knitting group averaged 54 students per quarter and produced baby blankets and various clothing articles as well as embroidered sheets.  
  • The Bakery group averaged 29 students per quarter.
  • The Batik group averaged 36 students per quarter.

Vocational Training Funds

The board was deeply saddened by the need to close this program. We remain hopeful that the people who learned new skills with our assistance will find those skills helpful as they begin new lives in the resettlement process. 

In January, 2014, after a year spent exploring options for redirecting the vocational training funds, the board reintroduced Vocational Support to its budget by allocating $1,000 for scholarships to various vocational training programs offered by secondary schools in the Congo.