Stitching together a livelihood in a refugee settlement

When Kiden left South Sudan for Uganda in the middle of the 2017 surge of fighting in the civil war, only five things came with her; her four children and her sewing machine. Her husband was abducted at the beginning of the journey, and so overnight, Kiden became both a refugee and a single mother.

The exhausted family was received by World Vision staff on the Ugandan border, and they were taken to a camp settlement where World Vision assisted Kiden and her children to begin their new lives with food, shelter, and other essential items.

Kiden knew her sewing machine could be her livelihood in the settlement, and so she joined a savings group called Totogita, which means ‘knock and the door will be open.’ Savings groups are a way for people without access to formal banking services to access some financial security. Savings groups are owned, managed and operated by the members, using a simple, transparent method where groups accumulate and convert small amounts of cash into savings. World Vision saw what Kiden and the Totogita group were trying to achieve together, and issued them with a savings group kit, which included passbooks for each member, a savings box, and ledgers and writing materials for the group to record their transactions.

Kiden began to do some small sewing jobs for her neighbours, and started to save some of her income with the Totogita group. She even borrowed from the Totogita group’s pooled savings, and bought thread and needles. She set up her sewing machine under a tree, and began working full days where the community could bring in any mending or sewing that they needed done in exchange for a small fee.

In 2019, World Vision’s partner microfinance institution, VisionFund Uganda, came to Kiden’s settlement looking for promising savings groups who could grow their livelihood with the help of a loan to the group. The Totogita group was identified, and after some financial literacy training, VisionFund lent a sum to the group as a whole, to boost the savings available between the members. Kiden applied to the Totogita group for a third of the loan amount to buy cloth for school uniforms and kitenge (traditional sarong) fabric, and she began making a much larger profit by supplying local school children with uniforms, and their mothers with new dresses. By paying back the loan with interest, the Totogita group’s savings grew alongside Kiden’s income, meaning more savings were then available for the other business interests of the group’s members.

In early 2020, COVID-19 struck the settlement, but despite some periods of lockdown, Kiden’s business has continued to thrive.

“I have bought two more sewing machines, employed two people to help me, and at times I also train people who want to become tailors,” says Kiden proudly. With her business income, she has managed to put all her children into private schooling and bought them bicycles so they can commute, as well as constructing an iron-sheet shelter instead of her original settlement-issue tarpaulin.

“My life is never the same again,” says Kiden. “I thank VisionFund for the support and urge other people to also borrow so that their lives change. My only prayer is that my husband rejoins us by the grace of God, and then my life will be complete.”


Story submitted by Wani Lomaa Kenyi, Field Officer, Moyo Branch, VisionFund Uganda