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Humans · Economy

A refugee targets rebel groups with business training

November 21st, 2015
in:Humans, Economy
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Uganda
tags:Ashola, Benson Wereje, rebel group, Uganda

A refugee in the war ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo is offering training and economically empowering opportunities to youth in a bid to keep them away from joining rebel groups that capitalize on their desperation to lure them to battlefields.

Benson Wereje the co founder and director of COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA) has known first hand the brutality and vagaries of the decades long Congo war, having been at the epicenter when rebels struck his village killing anyone on sight. Benson lost family, friends and neighbours and was separated with his parents forcing him to flee to Uganda’s Kyangwali refugee camp. To survive at the camp, Benson worked as a labourer in the fields as he struggled to complete his primary education. Two years into his secondary education the United Nations withdrew its support for the camp’s schools which meant Benson had to terminate his studies. But zeal and determination saw him win a soccer scholarship that assisted him complete his secondary education. Aware of the plight of his peers at the camp, he returned to the camp to form Coburwas, a club where members assisted each other working in the fields. The stars would later shine on him when he got another scholarship by Educate! which gave him entry to the university where he successfully graduated with a degree in Education. But Benson knew what it felt to have nothing, and how vulnerable his peers were at the camp.

Rebels in the Congo war have always baited disenfranchised and poor youth with promises of quick wealth while recruiting them to fight. It is a tactic through which many youth in DR Congo with no jobs and hope in life have fallen for which has further fanned the violence.

The Democratic Republic of Congo tribal war which has been driven by scramble for resources is the bloodiest form of tribal division experienced since the World War II. The war created over 450,000 refugees, two million internally displaced people and 45,000 deaths each month according to the International Rescue Committee.

Now Benson is working with the youth in the affected areas, empowering them and closing any avenues that may see them join the battlefields. Through CIYOTA Benson has reached over 10,000 youth

“No one can give us what they do not have. We do not change people but we change ourselves and the world changes with us,” reads the philosophy of CIYOTA which is hinged on the principles of non-violence and empowerment. According to Benson CIYOTA’s initiative has reached more than 100,000 people with the self-empowerment message while directly educating more than 600 others at the institution’s sponsored two schools based in Kyangwali camp.

Entrepreneurship training for the youth is through globally recognized models like those in African Leadership Academy, Transformative Institute and vocational training. Under vocational training for example, the youth are trained how to rear livestock as a business venture and other value addition enterprises like juice manufacture and milk processing.

The leadership training program on the other hand which is dubbed Pamoja Kwa Maendeleo, Swahili for together for development, is hinged on the nonviolence philosophy which was advocated by global icons like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior. The program which CIYOTA carries out in collaboration with the Transformative Action Institute applies innovative approaches to train leaders in more than 1000 villages from Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Western Uganda. Leaders from the different feuding sides sit together and look for amicable solutions to their problems.

The economic empowerment model of CIYOTA works with individuals and communities with projects like communal large scale commercial farming being its crown jewel. The organization on average gets $300,000 as yearly revenue from this farming which it uses to build schools and hostels for students while advancing more training to young refugee population.

Benson is not done yet. He intends to reach 1 million youth with his initiative in the next five years. Such spirited peace efforts have seen him receive global recognition. He has been named as the 2015 Ashoka fellow, a prestigious recognition by a world body that recognizes social entrepreneurs in assisting them achieve the highest level of social impact in society. He is also the 2013 Echoing green fellow, a global initiative that seeks to identify and recognize the next generation that solves the world’s biggest problems.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
Benson Wereje talks about peace in the DR Congo (04-14)
Rebels in the Congo war have always baited disenfranchised and poor youth with promises of quick wealth while recruiting them to fight.
The Democratic Republic of Congo tribal war which has been driven by scramble for resources is the bloodiest form of tribal division experienced since the World War II. The war created over 450,000 refugees, two million internally displaced people and 45,000 deaths each month according to the International Rescue Committee.

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