Empowering Futures: Mary Awate's journey to establish her own motorcycle repairs garage.


Mary Awate, a South Sudanese refugee living in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district, is rewriting her life story, undertaking a training in mechanics, a male dominated trade in Uganda. The 36-year-old is one of the refugee women undertaking vocational skills training under the UN Women Leadership, Empowerement, Access and Protection (LEAP) project funded by the Government of Norway and implemented through Refugee Law Project.

Mary Awate's journey into motorcycle repairs
Mary (far left) alongside some of the young women who are in the Mechanics training course, sharing her experience with a team from UN Women during a monitoring visit in February 2024. Photo: UN Women / Samuel Wamuttu

Mary is a South Sudanese refugee who came to Uganda in 2016 due to the insurgency that erupted back home. She has since lived in Bidibidi refugee settlement with her family. Before embarking on her transformative journey, Mary endured a life characterized by uncertainty and limited opportunities. Relying on subsistence farming, she confronted the hardships of unpredictable weather conditions, leading to scant harvests and insufficient provisions to fulfill her family's needs.

In 2022 during a church service, Mary learned of an opportunity under the LEAP project calling upon women in her community to enroll in various life skill training programs, ranging from agronomy and hairdressing to catering, driving, and even motorcycle repairs. The LEAP project focuses on enhancing the leadership capacity of women and girls to engage in humanitarian response programming and equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary for economic empowerment and self-advocacy. Participants gain a wide range of skills including leadership, english literacy and numeracy skills as well as vocational skills to enable them engage in sustainable economic activities.

"I picked motorcycle repairs because not many women in my community do this kind of job. I wanted to challenge myself in this area dominated by men," Mary shares. Mary is currently one of 22 participants immersed in the motorcycle repairs course, symbolizing hope, empowerment, and the transformative impact of education and skills training on individuals and the community.

Determined to break barriers, Mary envisions establishing her own garage in the community upon completing the six months motorcycle repairs course. Despite initial skepticism from some community members, Mary is grateful for the invaluable skills she's acquiring, realizing its potential to generate employment.

"Some people initially told me that I was just wasting my time. However, I'm gaining valuable skills that will create employment for me. I intend to transfer this knowledge and train more young people to work with me in the garage that I plan to establish," she asserts.

The LEAP project aims at empowering the refugee and host community women and girls holistically by enabling them to participate in various project interventions. In addition to the vocational skills training, Mary joined a cohort of 314 learners (260 women, 54 men) in Yumbe district who attended English for Adults literacy classes and leadership skills training. This has enabled Mary to improve her English language proficiency and to become a community leader, fostering positive transformation among her peers.

"I topped my class and am currently at level 2. This program has boosted my confidence, and I can now interact and understand others more than ever before. Many women in the community face challenges, and I consider myself fortunate to have this opportunity," Mary expresses her joy.

With the leadership skills, Mary is looking forward to the next Refugee Welfare Committee elections with aspirations of competing for the position of secretary for women affairs in Bidibidi refugee setlement.