Mary working at her sewing machine

From Refugee to a Tailor in the Making

In the settlement of Palorinya in northern Uganda, most of the inhabitants share the same story.

Like so many others in her village, Mary (32) had arrived there from South Sudan.

The fights and shootings in their hometowns broke out without warning.

Mary was only able to gather a few things when she left her home, together with her children, and her father.

Her uncle had been killed and she lost her husband along the way when they were separated in the chaos.

Many of her neighbors had been separated from their families in the same way, scared and scrambling to hide from the soldiers.

Mary and her family walked through the bush for three days.

She had only a piece of cassava to feed her children. It was all she had been able to bring along.

She recalls how they had to go without food for nearly two days.

When they arrived in Uganda and reached the settlement of Palorinya, they were provided some basic necessities.

They were given a piece of land and some tools to free it from the shrubs.

In the beginning, Mary found it very difficult to build a new life.

She had been doing well back home in Kajo Keji. There, she had run a tea house and also worked as a midwife in her village as the hospital was not within close quarters.

In Palorinya she had to start all over again.

Some refugees opened small retail shops in the street, others grew maize, sesame seeds or pumpkin on their allocated plots of land.

Mary baked pancakes from the maize flour distributed by the UNHCR, which she then tried selling at the market. In this way she gradually began to earn a small income.

Aid organisations such as World Vision and CARE soon began to set up small savings groups among the refugees and train them in accounting and business skills.

This allowed savings group members to regularly draw small loans from the group's savings to invest in and grow their small businesses.

In her garden, Mary too began planting peas to sell at the market.

When she had the money, she bought groundnuts and made a paste, which she then sold at a small profit.

Mary’s eight children all go to school in the settlement. She wants them to have a good education and to be able to do whatever they wished in the future.

She tells us how she had happened to meet her husband in the streets of the settlement nearly two years after they had been separated.

In the afternoons, Mary is usually found at a tailor's shop where she learns sewing, together with fellow-refugees.

Behind one of the sewing machines, Mary sits in a light blue dress with a measuring-tape hanging from around her neck.

She has been attending the training regularly for the past month and intends to make dresses to expand her sources of income. 

VisionFund Uganda extended its operations to the Palorinya settlement with the aim of giving the savings groups an extra loan so that its members could get more frequent and higher loans from the group.

With her loan of 300,000 UGX (USD 81), Mary was able to buy the material she needed to do her sewing and also hire someone to help cultivate her land.

Mary wants to spend every spare minute she has on her training to get closer to her dream of owning her own little tailor shop.

With the increased capacity of her savings group through VisionFund, the future is looking promising.


Story by: Megali Nanayakkara, Network Communications & Social Media Manager, VisionFund International