Empowerment as a substitute to direct services model: Experiences from the basic video advocacy training for refugees

By Dieudonne Maganya (Published 29th August 2016)

Early 2014, the Refugee Law Project (RLP), School of Law Makerere University together with Institute for Development Studies (IDS) jointly delivered a weeklong training to a peer support group of male victims of conflict-related sexual violence. The training was on how to use film to advocate for self. The experience was thrilling and besides the empowerment and the skills, a short film was made out of that experience. The group used that short film, “The Bench”, as a launch-pad to more ambitious projects in audio-visual media.

Indeed, after another workshop and a targeted refresher training in film making in late 2015, the same group made a longer and more complex film, “Men Can Be Raped Too”. 

However this blog is not just about the support group, nor the films they produced. It is about the relationship between the two training experiences and needs assessment/ identification within our clients (forced migrants). Following the above experiences, the information spread among the clients about the kind of training at RLP, and this resulted in an overwhelming demand from our clients for similar training. 

Whereas Uganda’s Refugees’ Act 2006 grants refugees important and generous rights to engage in gainful employment including agriculture and industry (Ref Section 29 of the Act), thousands of refugees especially those in urban areas suffer repeated setbacks with regards to employment and integration. Most obviously is the language issue for many of our clients who come from non-English speaking countries but, alongside this, there is the issue of not having the right skills required considering the new context. 

As the Media for Social Change Programme, under which I fall, we came to a realization that there was an absolute need to enroll other clusters of our clients into a similar training, this time around with use of our internal resources, in terms of both human and logistical support.

In March 2016, announcements were made targeting graduates from our English For Adult (EFA) unit under the Access to Justice Programme, an English program designed to reduce language barriers for forced migrants and to ease their integration. By engaging the EFA graduates, we also wanted to build a linkage between the Media for Social Change Programme and EFA that would encourage potential learners to join EFA with a view to then adding another skill after learning English. 

In less than three days we had received more than 25 applications, yet our target was twenty (20) learners. This was a strong signal of the high level of interest in the training.

In trying to ensure we got the right candidates, an application and shortlisting process was set up, followed by interviews. Candidates were taken through an oral interview and a simple practical test to ascertain their interest. The recruitment encouraged women to apply with a goal of trying to narrow the wide gender imbalance in the industry, and as an affirmative action, we guaranteed five (5) slots for women.

The ambitious program was rolled out; twenty candidates were successfully enrolled, among them five females. The new venture kick started on a very high note, with a lot of enthusiasm and expectations, both for the trainers and trainees.

To me as a media advocacy trainer, the ultimate purpose was to impart refugees with a “strategic skill” and tools that they would use to speak, to communicate their rights in a foreign country, and to equip them with a life-skill that could be used to improve their livelihoods. Of course this is a big ambition, but the key question to me was as to whether our offer matched what they needed, bearing in mind that intervention programs for forced migrants often do not match the actual needs of the beneficiaries, and therefore do not necessarily solve their problems. 

Three months into the training, the candle is still burning, at least for fifteen (15) of the twenty shortlisted participants who walk miles under Kampala’s scorching sun to come and attend classes without transport refund, meals or refreshments expected. Some of them told me that they trek 20 kms every Wednesday and Thursday from Ndejje, a Kampala suburb, to our office in the quest the skills. 

 “This training gives me skills in video ground, how to be SMART in everything I do”, one of the learners said.


It is worth mentioning that all the women participants are still going strong, in fact, two of the four say they are mothers and wives and determined to see the training through to the very end. 

“The topics are relevant to me because I didn’t know them and they will help me to start a new business”

The training is covering a number of topics including: the importance of videography and photography, mapping, storytelling, safety, security and consent and ethical issues, processes of filming, photo and video editing, dissemination of products. From topic to topic the interest keeps growing, but from my observation the peak of the excitement was seen when filming and editing started. 

         “We know why we make videos, we know how to prepare SMART stories, we know ethics and guideline” 

         “I didn’t know that in video there are different formats”

In preparation for this year’s World Refugee Day - 20th June, the learners were challenged to send a message to the world through video and using the skills they had thus far acquired. Guided by one of my colleagues, the learners conceptualized, filmed and edited a  2 minutes video in which they spoke to their learning experiences and hopes.

This was among my memorable days of the training. The excitement was so high as they interviewed each other, edited the footage and creatively crafted the messages in line with this year’s theme. It was fascinating. 

Kampala is host to over 74,000 refugees (UNHCR figures May 2016). With the fact that urban refugees rarely get direct help from refugee organizations in Uganda, I believe that empowerment through such high end skills trainings is a more realistic way of ensuring that they able to meet their basic needs and contribute to community and national development. 

Service providers and implementing partners in the forced migrants’ sphere need to go beyond the well-elaborated policies in handbooks on self-reliance and empowerment. Implementation of these policies is paramount.  Teach refugees how to fish instead of giving them fish.

The writer (Dieudonne Maganya) works for RLP as Video Advocacy Assistant under the Media for Social Change Programme






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