Ojok Okello on Rise Up Hub, A Refuge For Refugees

Every story begins somewhere. So does RISE UP HUB a story of renewed hope in the lives of refugees living in Kampala, Uganda.

Ojok Okello was tired of repeating himself every time he attended some of the high level consultation meetings on, among other items on the agenda, the issue of refugees. Often, the conversation came up and a lot of time was lost on reiterating what had been discussed previously and yet no new action was to be done.

The story of refugees caught the attention of many given its urgency and relevancy. One would be duped to think that everyone was for the refugees. A number of organizations are running programs on the same yet there does not seem to be much being done.

Refugees are attracting attention because it is a global challenge without an immediate solution. The few who have tried to address it are stuck with the same small steps being taken by other players to address the problem.

The appalling bit is that in all these very many high level meetings and consultations, speaker after another always boasts of the very many numbers of the refugees that they are supporting. This support is mainly seen and evidenced on the tags that the refugees wear. The tag gets one food, a tent to sleep in and access to medication when sick and that is all the story there is to tell. Refugees remain trapped in excel sheets tagged as numbers. Statistics. Every refugee is just another number.

It turns out to be that when one acquires the refugee status, they lose their human face. They only exist to survive on the hand-outs made by the various big organisations. This is where the problem is. Refugees are human beings with ambitions and hope. They are interested in living life like the rest of the human race. But unless one works off their feet to defy this status, it is a life time sentence. A condemnation in the camp.

Ojok works with Konrad Adenaeur Stiftung, an organisation that spearheads governance related projects. This comes with meeting very many people at different levels. One thing that he is not short of is meeting people looking for opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those they lead. This left him challenged. He thought he could do something as well.

Reflecting on his own story, on a number of occasions, someone has offered to stand up for Mr. Okello. After his primary school, someone offered him a bursary for his secondary school studies. Thereafter he received a government sponsorship for his undergraduate studies at Makerere University. Later, he was identified by a couple that offered to sponsor his masters’ studies at the London School of Economics.

This kindness by the other people on him left him indebted. It is for this reason that he founded the Ojok Okello Scholarships through which he helps other young people acquire an education. He has seen the program grow to 20 students now. But even then, there was a thirst in his heart that needed to be quenched and that was one of refugees. Those whose interest may not be education but rather a livelihood.

One of the programs run by the organisation he works with is a dialogue on the refugee question and it came with a lot of despair among the refugees. Most of them live very disadvantaged lives and they find it hard to be integrated in the working cycle of the communities where they are based.

It is such sentiments that left him aggravated every other day that he attended such gatherings.

“Our existence is to make meaning in people’s lives. I was surrounded with opportunities that I could leverage to make a difference,” says Ojok in his soft spoken demeanour.

He thought of doing something that would lift up the refugee’s life beyond the camp and the concentration centres where they dwell. He felt he could add a brick to their aspirations as human beings.  He wanted to help the refugee find their identity in working like any other person. There was more to be done. And it had to take the initiative of someone who recognised this challenge to RISE UP and take charge. He offered.

Uganda hosts refugees from as many as five countries in the region, that is; Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan. In the places where they are, they are organised in communities through which they support themselves.

He reached out mainly to the associations of the Congolese and South Sudanese only to be shocked by the number of people that turned up. Over 200 members applied but they could only take in 100.

This was too big a number for Rise Up to handle on their own. They sought the assistance of the French Embassy to help them in the execution of the project.

Rise Up Hub is a fashion house that makes striking tailor-made African Print (kitenge) outfits with a target for the uptown market. They put up two different work stations; a training unit in Nsambya and a production unit in Kyebando. Armed with the necessary equipment, they brought on board a number of skilled tailors and fashion designers to help with the work. The trainees were to undergo a 100 day program where they were exposed to working with the sewing machines.

Rise Up is built on an apprenticeship model where one is equipped to learn on the job but most importantly they should be able to train someone else thereafter.

Today, Rise Up has gone beyond the fashion house. Barely six months old, the hub has registered immense success. They have gone on to include other disciplines like vehicle repair and maintenance, bakery, hair dressing among others in which other members of these communities are best served.

With the passing of time, Rise Up Hub should be self-sustaining leveraging mainly on the use of social media to grow its market, one based on trust. There has been a growing clientele served in the past times and the enterprise intends to keep it that way and better. Clients make their orders online and their products are delivered in 72 hours. The client only pays upon delivery and only if they have liked the product.

The question of bettering people’s livelihood does not only stop with the refugees. Today, single mothers in Kyebando have since enrolled to acquire a skill for themselves.

Rise up is a space where skilled refugees in fashion and design train fellow refugees to acquire similar skills that can ably qualify them to compete on the job market.

The hub is intentional on its mission to remain an ethical fashion brand producing quality garments. There is a global awakening to what Africa can offer on the global market. And as of today, African fabric is picking up momentum and Rise Up won’t be left behind. The models of the fashion brand are already running on fashion shows making a statement that there is more to being a refugee beyond being a statistic and label.

He hopes that the RISE UP brand will be replicated elsewhere in the world to raise the standards of living of refugees. The model has been tried and it works.


You can place your order from RISE UP HUB here

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