West Nile-based NGO picks the wretched of the earth, mainly orphans and other vulnerable persons, and turns their lives around by offering vocational skills. They also teach adults who missed formal education how to read and write and gain life skills.
Loice Ajonye married in her teens because life provided her with no other option. The 1978/9 liberation war had forced her to abandon Senior Two studies at Sacred Heart SS in Gulu for refuge in Zaire (now DR Congo).
But there was no reprieve in her battle against fate. At 40 years and a mother of seven, Ms Ajonye was ditched by her husband, Mr Kusika Ayanyaki, after their six-months-old child died of a mysterious illness shortly after a visit to maternal uncles.
“He said his child had been poisoned and chased me with all the other children,” Ms Ajonye narrates.
With barely a formal qualification to hold onto, she fell in the trap of having to fend for half a dozen offsprings singly. She balked. The boat of life appeared to sink with her and the family on board.
Her agony, however, thawed when Community Empowerment for Rural Development (Ceford), West Nile’s indigenous non-governmental organisation, offered her a lease of life.
Wretched life turned around
In 2005, the largely Dutch-funded NGO picked the hapless woman of Mongoyo village in Koboko District and honed her skills as a literacy facilitator.
Her job was cut out: Teach adults who missed formal education how to read and write and gain life skills in what is otherwise christened by educationists as Functional Adult Literacy (FAL).
Being a FAL instructor, she says, has given her exposure and brought smart earnings.
“I am a community vaccinator, HIV/Aids counsellor, chairperson of the FAL instructors’ network (in Lobule Sub-county) and I sit on the Board of Koboko Civil Society Network,” Ms Ajonye proudly says knowing she can now afford to pay tuition for all her children by multi-tasking.
“Ceford picked me from nowhere and has brought me this far.”
This kind of empowerment has spread to benefit orphans and other vulnerable children (OVCs) that the NGO sponsors for vocational training.
Mr Philip Abiyo, an orphan in Dadamu Sub-county in Arua District, was picked by Ceford and trained in carpentry at Ocoko Rural Rehabilitation and was upon graduation offered new equipments for his work. He says: “I had dropped out of school but Ceford helped me and now I have my money.”
Yielding the fruits
To-date, some 200 OVCs in West Nile have benefitted. Some 6,074 residents, the majority being women, have enrolled for FAL classes across the region, the NGO’s executive director, Ms Jean Asipkwe, says.
“This is because many women do not get the opportunity to go to school since parents prefer to marry them off for wealth (bride price),” she says.
Former Adjumani District Education Officer Josephine Ujeyo says the cultural biases have culminated in unchecked early pregnancies and rapid HIV/Aids infections.
Now parents who assemble for FAL classes in church buildings and under trees are taught hygiene practices, home management and given information about prevention of HIV/Aids as well as other government programmes such as National Agricultural Advisory Services to elicit their full participation.
Ms Nelly Badaru, the NGO Board chairperson, says they teach farmers garden preparation, making manure on-site and supply high-yielding seeds.
“We also teach them post-harvest handling, storage of farm produce and marketing until they get money (out of their sweat),” she says.
The Dutch Embassy in Kampala has partnered with Ceford and offered Shs3.1 billion to erect teacher’s houses in selected primary schools.
“When it rains, teachers who stay far do not report to teach. And when teachers are absent, the pupils too, do not turn up. This leads to poor performance,” laments Ambassador James Baba, the state minister in the Office of the Vice President.
The irony is that in schools such as Riki Primary where new teachers’ houses have been constructed, some pupils still study under eucalyptus trees.
The Community Renewed Ownership of West Nile Schools project supporting staff housing has a micro-finance component under which FAL groups are advanced loans, usually Shs1 million or higher, as seed capital for the members’ rotational savings and credit association scheme.