From Ugandan refugee to Oxfam water technician

Richard Ochaya, Oxfam water technician. Photo: Grace Cahill/Oxfam

Recent fighting in the town of Kamango in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo forced thousands to cross the border into Uganda.

At the beginning of the influx, Richard Ochaya, a Ugandan engineer living close by, was called in the middle of the night by the district government to urgently find a water supply for the refugees along the border. He was then transferred to working at Bubukwanga transit center where he encountered Oxfam.

Richard said, “I was looking for water storage sites within the camp when I met Humphrey Marangu, a public health engineer for Oxfam. He asked me whether I could identify the gaps in how water was supplied and we started to work together.”

Supplying water for meals

Richard is now working for Oxfam setting up several water bladders at the transit center. “When I arrived, there was not enough water for the population and it was causing problems, children were screaming all over the place because meals were being delayed due to lack of water and they were hungry," he says.

Within two days, Oxfam had set up three water bladders which are supplying water for kitchen use to prepare meals for the refugees.

It's not the end

Refugee life is not unfamiliar to Richard. At the age of 15 he was displaced by the LRA rebel insurgency which affected the north of the country.  He spent three years living in a camp for internally displaced people and recognizes the challenges. “There are a lot of sad, stressed people here but I know, from my experience, it’s not the end for them,” he says.

Richard now employs five refugee workers to help him, mainly with preparing the ground on which storage tanks, pipes and tap stands are placed.  “I try to motivate the guys I’m working with by telling them they need to work on what’s here so they can own it for themselves. And working, keeping busy, helps with the refugees’ stress.”

Helping others

Kulimu, one of the refugees employed by Richard, said; “When I spent a few days here without work, I felt depressed. I am not used to sitting there with nothing to do, back home I was a carpenter running my own business to support my family. One day I approached Richard at a water construction point. I requested to help out and started work the next day.

"I am so happy that I wake up and have something to do. I do not have to sit thinking about my problems. From my daily wage, I have bought clothes for my children. My wife is very happy that I have work. I get so happy when I pass through the camp and see the taps running, people getting clean water.”

More than 20 refugees a day have been approaching Richard for work and when he doesn’t have it he tries to connect them to other aid agencies on the ground needing help.  The men I’m working with now feel respected and are earning a little money to help with basic costs”.

Oxfam response

We are working to provide water, sanitation and hygiene facilities for thousands of refugees living in Bubukwanga transit center, western Uganda (current figures are nearly 17,000).

Recent rebel fighting in DRC caused around 66,000 people (Red Cross figures) to cross into Uganda where many are in need of basic supplies and services. We are delivering 80,000 liters of water to the transit center every day and have set up water storage tanks, pipes and tap stands to ensure refugees have safe access to clean water.

Alongside the UN and other aid agencies, we are working to establish adequate toilets and bathing shelters, as well as promoting good hygiene practices.

Published 31 July 2013.
Text: Grace Cahill, Dorah Ntunga. Photo: Grace Cahill/Oxfam

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