A refugee’s dream of becoming an artist

July 14, 2023 in Featured News, News

In The Sacred Heart Messenger for August 2023, Fr Martin Hogan offers a reflection on the Assumption of Mary (celebrated on 15 August); Jemma Sinclair describes her experience of World Youth Day (which takes place this year from 1 to 6 August in Lisbon, Portugal); Peter McVerry SJ writes on a culture of ‘self-protective individualism’. Plus lots more. In this article, Rosette Komuhangi (Jesuit Refugee Service East Africa) tells the story of a Congolese refugee, his journey and how he has settled with work and a new life in Uganda.

A Congolese refugee in Uganda

Aganze Mugomoka is a Congolese refugee living in Uganda. With eight siblings he fled Congo because of the war. They left Goma in Congo in 2016 and settled in Kampala where they have managed to make life somewhat bearable. The journey from Goma was tragic and treacherous and he would rather not get into the details of the horrific events. On the journey, he and his brother were separated from their siblings only to be reunited two years later in Uganda. Aganze speaks with a lot of emotion about his parents whom he says, he last saw the morning of the flight. He is not sure if they are alive but lives in constant hope of being reunited with them at some point.

The plight of fleeing home might have shaken the young Aganze, but it didn’t make him lose hope. Having arrived in Kampala, he tried to fit in and find ways of earning a living. Aganze was introduced to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) by a friend. He enrolled in the Art and Crafts course because he always wanted to be an artist. He says while growing up, he drew pictures as a pastime and hoped that he would be an artist in the future and that the inspiration to pursue art and crafts was also from his father, a craftsman who made and repaired guitars, and from his mother, a tailor.

Upon finishing the course, JRS offered Aganze a grant as capital to start a business since he had an impressive business proposal. Mugomoka is a man of many talents. He makes jewellery, art pieces, shoes, book covers, carpets, and tie and dye pieces that he sells in his shop, markets, and online. He says that social media has proved to be a good avenue to market his products. ‘I have discovered that from social media I make sales. Every time I post my products, I get many clients who buy my products.’

In retrospect, Aganze says that even though he had a dream to become an artist, it is highly probable that he would not have become one back in Congo. Whereas being a refugee is not an ideal situation, it has offered him an opportunity to pursue a passion that seemed far from reach.

On average, he earns about 600,000 UGX (160 USD) from selling his products and the training that he does. With this income, he contributes to paying the bills in his sister’s household where he lives. He says: ‘I am a lucky person. I can afford most of the basic needs. I thank JRS for believing in me and supporting me to get onto my feet. I hope that one day, I will be able to pay back by helping other refugees who want to get into art and crafts and training them till they can earn from it. My future is bright. My only wish is that I get reunited with my parents just like I did with my siblings from whom we had been separated on our way to Uganda.’

For Aganze, art and crafts are not only a passion but also a profession that he lives off. He is happy to be gainfully employed by something he enjoys doing. He is also stand-in teacher for the Art and Crafts course at the JRS centre in Kampala and oversees the training of fellow artists who have been supported by JRS to sell their products at a Friday market in a Kampala suburb. Now, he informally trains children and youth in jewellery making and hopes to expand his business by adding a training component to his shop so that he can expand his capital base.

*If you would like to help JRS East Africa please send donations to the Editor, Sacred Heart Messenger, 37 Leeson Place, Dublin 2. All donations are given in full to JRS. Click here for the Messenger website ».

Image: From Pixabay