Making a living out of a passion: a refugee artist tells his life story
19 May 2023
“I can pay rent, buy food, afford transport, buy clothes, I started a business and I teach!” Aganze Mugomoka makes this statement with eyes brimming with enthusiasm and a voice of triumph. After fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Aganze now lives out his passion in Uganda as a refugee artist.
Separated from his parents in 2016 due to the conflict in DRC, he moved from Goma to settle with his eight siblings in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Their journey was tragic and treacherous, and he would rather not get into the details of the horrific events. He and his brother were separated from their siblings only to be reunited two years later in Uganda. The plight of fleeing home and the tragic and painful experience of the journey have shaken the young Aganze but have not made him lose hope.
Once in Kampala, he needed to find ways of earning to sustain himself. A friend introduced him to JRS in Uganda, where he enrolled in the Art and Crafts course because he has always wanted to be an artist. His inspiration also stems from his father, a craftsman who made and repaired guitars, and from his mother, a tailor.
To Aganze, arts and crafts is not only a passion but also a profession he lives off. Upon finishing the course, he obtained a JRS grant to start his own business. He makes jewellery, art pieces, shoes, book covers, carpets, and tie-dye pieces that he sells in his shop, in markets, and online, promoting them on his social media channels. He is happy to have a paid job in something he enjoys doing, and to be able to contribute to his family’s livelihood with his income.
He is also a stand-in teacher for the Art and Crafts course at the JRS centre in Kampala and oversees the mobilisation of fellow artists who have been supported by JRS to sell their products at a Friday market in a Kampala suburb. “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.” He would like to expand his business by adding a training component to his shop. Currently, he informally trains children and young people in making jewellery.
“Even though I had a dream to become an artist, it is highly probable that I would not have become one back in Congo. Although being a refugee is not an ideal situation, it has offered me an opportunity to pursue a passion that seemed far from reach.”
Aganze sees the path to his future as bright. He has only one wish: to be reunited with his parents, as he did with his siblings from whom he was separated on the way to Uganda. “I am not sure if they are alive, but I live in constant hope of being reunited with them sooner or later.”