The Story of Nighty Aol
Orphaned by war, now Nighty is preparing to transform her community
UMECS student Nighty Aol is pursuing a Bachelor of Public Administration degree at Gulu University and sees a great opportunity for her education to help reduce poverty in her home communities. Her analysis is that with the widening of market opportunities in the East African community, with modernized agriculture being profitable and with increasing opportunities in the technological sectors, youth in Uganda should become more business, modernized agriculture and technology oriented, and trained in these fields.
As a soon-to-be public administrator, she plans to shape the minds of her community to move in these development directions, help formulate policies and initiate projects and programmes that facilitate unemployed youth and community members to become successful entrepreneurs and jobs creators.
There is little about her childhood that suggests she would be preparing to play this significant role as an educated community change agent.
Nighty was born on 23rd November 1995 in Paduny parish, Anaka sub-country in Nwoya district, Northern Uganda in the middle of a war zone. Both her parents died when she was a small child and she grew up with her aunt in Anaka Town Council Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp.
“The camp situation was appalling,” Nighty recalls. “We were displaced from our ancestral land. We lacked food and basic supplies like salt, soap and sugar which were hard to come by. We lived in constant fear of being abducted. One of my uncles was killed by the rebels as he went looking for food to bring back to the camp. Being an orphan at an early age was a difficult thing to accept. Thank God my Aunt stood by us all the way.”
Having completed her primary school education in November 2007, Nighty hoped to continue on to secondary school but her aunt was unable to raise the school fees. Nighty saw no hope of going beyond primary school.
In February 2008, to her surprise, UMECS came to her village. UMECS was expanding the Northern Uganda Education Programme to Gulu and Amuru Districts (Nwoya district was then part of Gulu) and UMECS chose Nighty’s village as a community from which to select new students. Nighty was selected by UMECS to join a new cohort of UMECS sponsored students at Sacred Heart Secondary School in Gulu. Nighty performed well at Sacred Heart and in her national O-level examinations in 2011, qualifying her to be admitted into a challenging A-level programme at Pope John Paul II Secondary School in Gulu where she continued her journey under our auspices. She performed equally well on her national A-level exams two years later. In 2014, she joined our large cohort of sponsored students at Gulu University where she is pursuing her degree in Public Administration. She graduates in 2017.
Setting a standard for educational achievement
It is not acceptable, according to Nighty, that the majority of Ugandans never completes secondary school. Every youth today, she believes, should be educated to at least higher education diploma or degree level.
“Higher education is important,” she says “because it prepares people for the challenging life ahead of them. The youth who complete only O-level and A-level secondary school are not prepared enough for career and life challenges.”
Nighty sees poverty as the main reason youth are not reaching required educational levels. This is why she believes in the community intervention she is planning, reducing unemployment and idleness in rural areas through community and local development policies which train and empower youth as successful entrepreneurs with highly developed practical modernized agriculture, management and technological skills. In this way, breaking entrenched cycles of poverty creates the sustainable income for families to afford the education of their children.
Emphasis on girl-child education
While she sees the situation improving, Nighty believes there are still some people who value the education of boys more than girls. Nighty notes that education of the girl-child requires focused attention.
“Emphasis should still be made on gender equality which will encourage the girl-child to complete secondary school. Guidance and counseling (in schools) is also a key component to address adolescent girls’ issues.”
Nighty highlights the girl-child also requires access to personal hygiene supplies, which is a key incentive to keep the girl-child in school.
Her mom died in a landmine explosion
Building peace to prevent new wars is not an abstraction to Nighty. The deaths of both her parents were war-related. Her mom’s death was especially traumatizing.
When she was at Sacred Heart Secondary School, Nighty participated in UMECS Peace Education and Guidance & Counseling Programme (PEGC).
“Today, I am peaceful. PEGC teachers provided us with the skills in peacebuilding and guidance and counseling was greatly improved. Among my peers, unity was created and it further strengthened the bond among UMECS-sponsored students because we felt the organization was making wider impacts. The entire school community benefited from PEGC.”
Nighty believes wars and violent conflicts can be prevented through peacebuilding and reconciliation and emphasizes the role of students and women.
“For me, students are key players in peacebuilding and yet many times they are ignored. Schools bring together students from all backgrounds and engage students as the voices of peace. Student peacebuilding is critical because whatever affects students in one part of the country affects all.”
She also feels the role of women in peacebuilding is too often underestimated:
“Women are natural peacebuilders. They see war from the eyes of mothers.”
Indifference to preventing war, Nighty believes, is a major reason why wars are not prevented:
“When one looks the other way when it comes to war, then there is silent collaboration because there is no way one can be on the fence about what war does to women and children. Either you are opposed to war and working to end it or in your silence, you simply look the other way and fail to change the situation.”
The Transformational Power of Education
“My experience at Gulu University has elevated my self-esteem. I feel my worth.”
Nighty appreciates the role of team work in some of her courses: “Each student of a given group is expected to conduct research and make presentations to the group. Group presentations and discussions have helped to improve my research, critical thinking and presentation skills, and build my confidence.”
“University education has provided me with the opportunity to advance my technological skills in computing, internet and research.”
On campus at Gulu University – Nighty Aol with some of UMECS sponsored students, Left to right, Robert Angura Kelly; Victoria Akoko, Nighty Aol, Rosemary Atimango, Rachel Abalo and Rose Asire. In background, UMECS Education Field Coordinator Anthony Ojok
Gulu University is a multi-cultural experience – attended by students from diverse ethnic and cultural groups throughout Uganda and the region – and Nighty, as with all our students at Gulu University, appreciates learning in a multi-cultural environment. Nighty is especially grateful for how she now understands and values the many cultures of Uganda and how she and other UMECS sponsored students at Gulu University have built strong friendships with students from many diverse cultural backgrounds.
University has also provided Nighty with a key insight – becoming a jobs creator rather than a job seeker:
“The university experience has inspired me to create my own job as a public administrator and policy changer when I graduate so that I can make a difference in the lives of people and serve as a role model.”
The Role of UMECS
“UMECS has positively impacted on my life in the field of education and peacebuilding. Through UMECS, I have now reached university. The organization has been my parent and has provided me mentors who helped to shape my life. With UMECS by my side, I am confident I will achieve my goals. Someday I will write a book about my life and UMECS impact.”