Not too long ago, 48-year-old Hwaida lived in the slums of Cairo, Egypt. Unemployed, she struggled to support five children and her mother. Today, thanks to the Salesian-run Sunrise Project for Urban Refugees, she operates a successful home-based sewing business, earning enough money so that she no longer worries how she will feed, clothe or shelter her family.
Like so many other refugees from Sudan -- some officials estimate the numbers to be in the millions, living in Cairo alone -- Hwaida sought relief from unspeakable violence at home. But the abject poverty she faced as a refugee in a foreign land, combined with the lack of basic social support to assist in her family’s resettlement, quickly overshadowed the gains she’d made in physical safety.
“Women and children make up a significant percentage of Sudanese refugees in Egypt,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “And once there, though eager, female heads of household have little means or opportunity to provide for themselves. They don’t know how to navigate the labor laws, and don’t have an established professional network to assist them. This, in turn, contributes to a situation in which entire communities live in informal settlements without clean water, sanitation or even roofs on houses.”
This is why, in 2014, Salesian Missions (thanks to the support of our generous donors) began working with Don Bosco Cairo, funding scholarships as part of the Sunrise Project. This training program assists refugees and vulnerable Egyptians in gaining the technical and life skills they need to find employment and support their families. Seventy percent of the program’s participants come from Sudan or other countries in Africa’s Greater Horn Region, while 30 percent are comprised of vulnerable Egyptians living in impoverished host communities. In addition to vocational education, participants learn valuable life skills and violence prevention to help them successfully adjust to their new urban environments.
Since the program’s inception, nearly 1,200 refugees have participated in intensive, three-month training courses in sewing, hairdressing and barbering, food and beverage services, maintenance and repair, and much more. Last year, Hwaida was one of a select few chosen to receive a “seed grant” of $500 and six months of professional mentoring. With the funding she received, she was able to launch a home-based custom sewing business. Today, she uses the sewing machine, fabrics and iron she purchased to craft high-end sheets and pillowcases that she markets to Egyptians with financial means. She also sews fabric remnants into television remote control holders that can be fastened to a couch. This last product has proven so successful, in fact, that Hwaida is considering devoting her entire business to their production. She has also expressed the desire to help train other women in similar situations.
According to Fr. Mark, the additional social services that participants receive -- grocery vouchers and free medical care, for instance -- have proven integral to their success. “When their basic needs are met, participants are better able to focus on their learning and performance,” he says, “so that they ultimately can meet those needs for themselves.”
Thanks to the Sunrise Project, more than 400 new participants in 2018 will soon enjoy the same opportunity for success that Hwaida has.
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