A group of women stand in a semi-circle outdoors
Young women attend a mentorship session to learn best practices in online work, including managing digital payments and withdrawing money earned.

Digital Skills Training Results in First Paycheque for Women and Girls in Refugee Contexts

Richard Ombina, WUSC Digital Hub and Scholarship Coordinator, is passionate about strengthening education and employment opportunities for young people living in crisis-affected situations.

In Kakuma Refugee Camp, Richard works to support young women to earn a livelihood. Some of these individuals have been born within the camp, and others have been driven out of their home by conflict. One struggle they all share is a limited ability to earn an income when they face so many additional barriers, both legally and culturally, to working outside of the home.

In refugee contexts, it is rare for women to be able to independently generate and have control over their livelihoods. In Kakuma, WUSC works with partners to create an environment where young women are empowered to gain skills for employment, earn an income, and manage their finances. These abilities are big factors for women to have greater independence and decision making power over their own lives.

It takes great tenacity to earn a living in the context of a refugee camp, where opportunities are so limited. However, WUSC programming is now providing many women and girls with a way to use their strengths to support their futures. Through our programming and in partnership with a fantastic refugee-led organization, Solidarity Initiative for Refugees (SIR), girls and young women are able to access a number of digital skills short courses that enable them to experience immediate success and start earning an income. As a result of this partnership, trainees also have access to more advanced courses, where the students learn skills such as coding.

But, often the first hurdle Richard faces is overcoming deeply ingrained perspectives about women’s work and their role in the community. That’s why community engagement and listening is a big part of his job:

“Through community engagement, we listen to concerns, whether it’s the brother, the cousin, the uncle, or the father. What are their perceptions of the digital space? We let them know what we’ve achieved so far. And what we can achieve if we have support coming from within the family.

These discussions have been very fruitful. You hear a brother or an uncle say that they’re able to stay behind with the children so the woman is able to attend class, earn some money, and support the family.

So, it’s been a matter of changing the mindsets and making sure that the perception the community has about digital skills is positive. That this training can help not only the female program participants, but the whole family and community can benefit from it.”

Richard Ombina, Digital Hub and Scholarship Coordinator

Being empowered to support oneself means more than just financial stability. When the constraints to education and economic participation are removed, young women have new opportunities to use their knowledge and skills. Those learning and working at the Digital Hub have reported that their confidence has grown, and how much they value this as an outcome of the courses in addition to the income.

Richard has seen the impact of the program on girls’ confidence with his own eyes. After overcoming so many barriers in school and in securing a livelihood, participants have a huge sense of accomplishment when they are finally able to earn an income. When asked what the favorite part of his job is he’ll tell you it’s that very first pay day:

“When the woman gets the first dollar in her account. Just imagine the feeling, you’ve been in the program for six months and now you’ve earned a wage. You see them light up, the smiles on their faces. They go out showing their friends, ‘See my account. Here’s my account. This is what I’ve been able to earn.’ And it’s such a motivation to me. I always look forward to that day.”

Richard Ombina, Digital Hub and Scholarship Coordinator

WUSC donors play a vital role in supporting programs that provide education and economic opportunities to girls and young women. Their support makes that first pay day a reality. When women are able to receive the education and training to earn a living, they are not only making profit, they are also making an impact in their communities, and showing others what is possible. 

According to Richard, who has spent his academic and professional life in Kenya, the WUSC program there is especially effective because it takes a holistic approach. He says:

“We are serving the woman, the family and the community. We have a creche – a daycare facility – for women who need to bring their children with them. That is really important for single mothers who don’t have a lot of family support. And we have a mentor program that pairs new trainees with more experienced women to help them succeed.”

Richard Ombina, Digital Hub and Scholarship Coordinator

These resources create an environment in which girls and women feel empowered to succeed. Promoting participants’ agency — their self-esteem, confidence, sense of self— is just as significant as providing them with the technical skills to earn an income. When they have agency, the skills to work and manage finances, and a community that supports access for girls and women to decent work, they are able to use their income to their and their families benefit and to make decisions about their lives.

In addition, Richard sees the fact that WUSC took the extra step to equip the Digital Hub with climate-responsive infrastructure as key to its success:

“In the Kakuma Refugee Camp, we have harsh climatic conditions. And sometimes, this makes it difficult for us to even connect to the internet. And because of WUSC, we’ve been able to provide devices that are climate condition friendly.

In addition, a reliable source of power within the camp is always a challenge, but now we are able to use green energy – solar power – at the centres. And we have power 24/7, with enough reserves to run up to three days without sun – important in the rainy season!”

Richard Ombina, Digital Hub and Scholarship Coordinator

This doesn’t happen without the kindness of WUSC donors who believe in our work. So, please make a gift today to support greater economic opportunities like these for girls and women in Kenya, as well as conflict-affected areas in Uganda, South Sudan, and Mali. Your gift will give women and girls the tools to build their futures.

Digital skills training at the Digital Hub is just one component of WUSC’s Learning through Education and Access to Skills for Employment (LEAP) project. WUSC thanks Global Affairs Canada for their generous support of this project. The LEAP project (2019-2024) will foster conditions for the empowerment of over 6,500 refugee and host community girls in northern Kenya through high quality educational services, the provision of market-driven skills training, and robust community engagement. 

WUSC works to create a better world for all young people. To learn more, start here or subscribe to get highlights straight to your inbox. Interested in volunteering internationally? View our current opportunities. Looking for a new career opportunity? Check out our current job openings. Or show your support for our cause by making a donation.


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