Breaking Barriers: A Refugee Mother's Journey of Resilience and determination


Poni Grace, a 23-year-old South Sudanese refugee living in Imvempi Refugee Settlement
Grace Poni working at a construction site erecting a pit latrine at a primary school in Imvempi Refugee settlement. Photo credit: UN Women/ James Ochweri

Displaced by war, Poni Grace, a 23-year-old South Sudanese refugee living in Imvempi Refugee Settlement in Terego district in Uganda, experienced a journey of hardship and displacement, followed by possibility. Her story is a testament to the unwavering strength found within refugee communities and the transformative power of opportunity.

Forced to flee her hometown of Yei in South Sudan at just 16 years old, Poni, left behind everything she knew and loved. Upon arriving in Imvempi, Poni found herself confronted with the harsh realities of refugee life. Basic needs were scarce, and opportunities seemed elusive. “Life was difficult” Poni says, “my family lacked basic needs. We had no source of livelihood. Imvempi is rocky and even when one engages in farming the yields are very poor”.

A year after arriving, and at the tender age of 17, Poni decided to get married, hoping for stability and support from her husband. Yet fate had other plans as her husband later abandoned her, leaving her to fend for herself and their two young children, now aged 6 and 3.5 years.

Poni in a light moment with her 2 children in Imvempi Refugee Settlement, Terego District
Poni having a light moment with her 2 children at home in Imvempi Refugee Settlement, Terego District. Photo credit: UN Women/ Allen Ankunda

However, Poni has defied the odds and refused to be deterred. In 2022, she embraced the opportunity offered by UN Women’s partner Peace Winds Japan for second chance education skills training. Choosing to defy traditional gender roles, Poni enrolled in bricklaying and concrete practice; a trade traditionally considered to be for men. While some in the community questioned her choice, Poni knew this path could lead to a brighter future for her family. “I chose bricklaying and concrete practice because it earns more money than the other opportunities” she says.

Today, two years on, Poni is one of the few refugee women working on construction sites as a mason. Her workmanship is valued, and she is held in high regard because of her skills, hard work, and punctuality.

With funding from the Government of Japan in 2022, UN Women supported over 100 girls to attend various courses ranging from bricklaying and concrete practice to electrical installation, tailoring, and catering, among others. The training has proved to be a turning point for these refugee women and girls, providing them an opportunity to earn a living.

Poni now earns about USD 6 a day which has provided her a sense of security she'd never known before. The first paycheck brought tears of joy. Finally, she could afford nutritious meals and new clothes for her children and join a Village Savings and Loans group where she saves at least 7 USD every week, fostering financial independence and building a safety net for her and her children.

Poni envisions living in her own house and offering quality education to her children. Poni’s journey of transformation is testament that training programs like the one offered by UN Women empower refugee women and girls with the skills they need to rebuild their lives. By investing in refugee communities, we invest in their dreams, fostering self-reliance and paving the way for a brighter future, not just for them, but for the societies they rebuild.