Mary Gina Angaun works for the organisation "International Rescue Commitee (IRC)". Photo: Sascha Montag

The All-rounder

Mary Gina Angaun helps poor farmers and vulnerable communities in North-Eastern Uganda. In Germany she studies the integration of refugees.

By Jan Rübel

During her work in Karamoja, the savannah in northeast Uganda, Mary Gina Angaun usually drives a motorcycle from village to village over sandy slopes. Today in Berlin, however, she navigates her team members through the IRC-global RescueNet website with quick clicks of the mouse. "And here we are," she says, pointing to a subchapter called "Economic Recovery"; the projector throws a list of a dozen projects on the wall. "This is my department. We do all of this in Karamoja."

On the fifth floor of a modern office building in Berlin-Mitte, her colleagues have many questions. How far apart are the villages in the Karamoja region? Wouldn’t it be easier to distribute smartphones? What exactly does the aid look like?

One organisation, different tasks

Mary Gina Angaun, 29, has the same employer as the people in the room: The International Rescue Committee (IRC); a global aid organisation for refugees and war victims. But while her colleagues from IRC Germany are involved in projects such as protecting refugees against violence in German reception centres or accompanying international aid projects, she is providing continued education on economic empowerment and gender based violence prevention in one of Uganda’s poorest regions.

Mary Gina Anguan talks about her work at the IRC in Uganda. Photo: Sascha Montag

Today Mary Gina Angaun explains her work in Uganda to the eleven employees of the IRC Berlin office. She has been a scholarship holder for almost three months in ifa’s CrossCulture Programme Refugees and Migration which serves to exchange good practice across national borders and which aims to create and promote an international network of institutions and persons.

"It’s about empowerment," Mary Gina Angaun summarises her talk. "We encourage farmers, small business people, and pastoralists with emphasis on women to start village banks with the objective to provide economic security and to plan investments together." In addition, the staffs of IRC have more effective methods of agriculture besides livestock farming, which still dominates the region.

Knowing more about the own organisation

At the end of the talk, her Berlin colleagues are impressed. "Now we know more about our own organisation," says Esther Wolf, the consultant for international programmes. The Berlin office was founded only one and a half years ago, and the team is growing. "The input from Mary Gina is a kind of development assistance for us."

As employees go back to their offices, Mary Gina Angaun revisits the IRC RescueNet website and scrolls through different countries programming, project reports and statistics to do research. "I’m exploring the effects of aid-in-cash that IRC sometimes provides. We have recently started this in Uganda in refugee areas as well. I want to know when it’s time to stop this aid in other projects so as not to hinder people’s self-help initiatives and not make them dependent on transfer payments."

Mary Gina Angaun studied social work and is an all-rounder when it comes to working with communities in different contexts, advising villagers on finance, agriculture and education, as well as successful household initiatives such as joint decision making, joint asset acquisition or accumulation and access and ownership.

Mutual learning: Mary Gina and her colleague from the IRC in Berlin are sharing experiences. Photo: © Sascha Montag

To gain new impressions

She came to Germany to learn. "I want to get out of my comfort zone where I now know my way around and would like to learn something new. I can imagine working with refugees in the future," she says. So she is studying their integration into German reception facilities, empowering institutions and job centres.

"I am impressed by the systematic way refugees are offered vocational training and continued education." Back in Uganda she will take new knowledge about dual education, strong network systems and the buddy principle found in empowering institutions or partner organisations of IRC in Germany, where young refugees receive personal, weekly coaching and mentorships. "This is also a kind of therapy for these people."

Germany could also learn a lot from Uganda, a small, economically unstable country with a refugee population of more than one million people. "One of the refugees in Berlin told me that she sometimes feels uncomfortable here in Germany, like a beggar," she says. The bureaucratic procedures in Germany sometimes take a long time. The Germans could become more aware that a good reception of refuges including education benefits everyone in the long term.