Oxfam Cymru changed my life in 2019 and inspired my goal to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking

Oxfam Cymru changed my life in 2019 and inspired my goal to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking

My name is Emertha Uwanyirigira. I was born in Tanzania, my parents were Rwandese refugees and we moved back to Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. I moved to Belgium in 2009 and then on moved to the UK with my two young children in 2017. I chose the UK because of its good policies on equal opportunities. I’ve settled in Wales because the Welsh are so friendly, they make me feel at home.

When I arrived in Wales I didn’t know anyone and I was pregnant with my third child, with no one to help. I lived on my savings. When my children were settled at the local school I decided that I would go to the library to read. I was educated, I have an MSc in Global Governance and 17 years work experience in community development, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do and what path I should take to support myself and my three children.

I was at the right place at the right time. In the local library I met a guy who was an employee of the Department for Work and Pensions – the Job Centres, he connected me with Anna McVicker who worked for Oxfam Cymru’s Skills For Life project. Being involved in the project was exactly what I needed, it gave me clarity.

Being new in the UK and having no family around was a challenging situation for me, especially integrating into a new community and culture. Oxfam’s Skills for Life showed me how to get in contact with the right people and it led me to the right place.

Through Skills for Life, I had the opportunity to learn useful skills to help me on my way, such as employability training, free coaching seasons and many missing links to help me develop. Above all this project helped me connect with my community. I met 20 women from different social and cultural backgrounds and I made friends. Learning and sharing our experiences and sharing ideas was a beautiful thing and so valuable, it really empowered us as women.

Working with Oxfam Cymru’s project gave me clarity and focus to help me decide on the right career path. I had little idea on how to get certain things done in this country, especially when I had to comply with the administration, but I had excellent support through Oxfam and they helped me access childcare, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have done without Oxfam’s support.

I became aware that my passion was serving my community and beyond, I wanted to eradicate slavery and forms of exploitation, particularly amongst women and children. In the last year I have managed to study a master’s degree in Global Governance at the University of South Wales . Having support and access to childcare meant that I could do this and fulfil my dreams.

Emertha on a research visit to Uganda to research the reality of modern slavery and human trafficking, June 2019.

One of my university modules was modern slavery, through my links with Oxfam’s Skills for Life, I was fortunate enough to get funding from the Welsh Government to fund a research visit to Uganda and Nairobi for four weeks in June and July 2019.  I chose Uganda and Kenya because those two countries are highly ranked among other African countries with Human trafficking and Modern slavery cases, above all I know the culture and languages spoken in those two countries. This experience gave me a real insight into the grim reality of what women and children face in these countries, and how easy it is for traffickers to access and transport vulnerable people.

Emertha meeting Vice President of Uganda, Ssekandi Edward to discuss anti human trafficking, June 2019.

Women are promised a better life and pleasant work in shops, but the reality is that they end up in sex work. Desperate families sell their children for money, they can’t survive without it. The traffickers promise them a better life for these children, but many end up in a nearby city or town and have to beg on the streets, others end up in the sex trade at an early age. Meeting victims first hand was heart breaking. Following meetings with some people in power in these countries, it became aware that they were actually unaware of the severity of the situation. It’s hard to believe that they truly think it’s not happening, but it is and I experienced it. This visit made me even more determined to make a difference.

I am proud to be graduating in December and my children will be there to see me. My plan is to set up an UK based organisation to raise awareness of the severity of modern slavery and human trafficking. I believe that raising awareness and influencing those in power in these countries is vital to influence change. I also believe the vulnerable and those in poverty in these countries need to be educated to realise how they and their children can easily end up as victims of slavery and human trafficking. I am currently looking for funding and support to set up this organisation, I welcome anyone who can help.

Oxfam has given me so much. Being part of the Skills for Life Project with Oxfam Cymru has changed my life and my outlook on life. As a mother of three I have experienced how women can feel empowered, how we can share our experiences and skills to help others.  I want to give back.

Emertha Uwanyirigira

For further information on how to support Emertha or for any further information about Oxfam’s work please contact Heulwen Davies, Oxfam Cymru’s Media and Communications Officer – hdavies1@oxfam.org.uk.   

Skills for Life was an Oxfam Cymru project which ended in 2018. The project worked with women in Cardiff to gain the skills and confidence they needed to progress into decent work. The project had a particular focus on black and minority ethnic women, and alongside the South Riverside Community Development Centre, delivered a year long programme of workshops, training, coaching and work placements. More information is available at https://oxfamapps.org/cymru/press_release/2017-06-skills-for-life/. You can learn more about the project on this video