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Ugandan Government Lauds Young Refugees for Pioneering Mass Production of Face Masks

Uganda's Cabinet Minister in charge of Refugees, Hillary Onek inspecting the production of Face Masks at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center (VTC).

Young refugees living at the Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Settlement have been applauded for being the first ever group to engage in the mass production of face masks, which they distribute to the most vulnerable communities in the East African country for free to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Addressing members of the public at a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launch of the “Free Masks Project” at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center (VTC), Hillary Onek, Uganda’s Cabinet Minister in charge of refugees said refugees at the settlement had taken the center stage in containing the spread of the coronavirus.

“Don Bosco has pioneered Face Mask production and have been very innovative not only in the Palabek Settlement, but in the whole of northern Uganda and the nation,” said Mr. Onek at the Wednesday, July 8 event.

He added, “The eyes of Don Bosco Missionaries have been sharp to see the needs and challenges of people. When the government did not budget for face masks for the refugees you stepped in and started making masks for those who couldn’t afford to buy them. And doing it in our district and in this new Training Center, you have made us proud.”

Onek thanked the Salesians for bringing light to a part of Uganda he said had, for years, been abandoned.

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He expressed his confidence that the Don Bosco VTC was set to produce able trainees drawn from both refugees and locals who, he said, would bring peace and harmony to the area.

The Minister’s sentiments were echoed by Mr. Charles Uma, the Chief Administrative Officer of Lamwo district.

Mr. Uma said that when the lockdown was declared in Uganda on March 18, he received a generous supply of Face Masks from Don Bosco VTC for use by vulnerable members of the district.

The July 8 event was graced by the Minister in charge of refugees in Uganda with participation of top officials from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and several leaders of the region, according to Fr. Lazar Arasu, the Director of Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Services who wrote to ACI Africa about the event.

“Everyone unanimously wanted the event to be held at Don Bosco VTC as it pioneered in the production of face masks,” the member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) said, and added, “School facilities were used for the project and production was solely done by our vocational trainees.”

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“It is not an exaggeration to say that with very limited resources we started producing masks and did free distribution to the refugees and community workers such as police, army, local leaders and medical workers,” the Indian-born Cleric who has been in East Africa for three decades said.

Madam Felicitas Nebril, Regional head of UNHCR lauded the refugee students together with the members of SDB based at the Palabek Refugee Settlement for their hard work and said they had beaten their host in their pace-setter role.

Nebril said that the refugees’ willingness to participate in the socio-economic activities of their host country was admirable.

“You have indeed become a model to the host community,” the UNHCR official said and encouraged the youthful refugees to continue setting a good example by wearing the masks to maintain the zero status of COVID-19 infection at the camp.

The UNHCR launch came three months after the Don Bosco VTC started making the COVID-19 protection face masks.

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In an earlier interview, Fr. Arasu told ACI Africa that refugees who attend the Don Bosco VTC that hugely serves refugee populations in the East African nation embarked on the making of the face masks the moment the country announced closure of learning institutions in the country.

Since the onset of the project, a group of 20 girls at the Don Bosco VTC has successfully produced at least 10,000 face masks of different shapes and sizes, which the SDB Priest says are given out for free.

The Salesian Missionary Priest who has ministered in Uganda for about two decades expresses gratitude to the partners in the various projects run by the missionaries among refugees in Uganda, a country lauded for being the most hospitable to vulnerable refugees in the region.

“Salesians are grateful to Don Bosco Jugendhilfe Weltweit (JuWe) our main service partner and other local supporters, Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, CESVI, Trocaire, AVSI, and LWF for the material and logistic support,” Fr. Arasu said.

The production of face masks is one of the ways that SDB members have employed to keep young refugees in Uganda engaged during the COVID-19 lockdown. Those who participate in these activities are given a stipend to sustain them, Fr. Arasu told ACI Africa.

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