UMECS Reaches Major Milestones with Sponsored War-Affected Student Graduations

On 26th October 2013, UMECS reached major milestones in our Northern Uganda Education Programme (NUEP): University graduations and multiple graduations in a wide diversity of career fields.

The Northern Uganda Education Programme sponsors 111 war and poverty affected youth in secondary school through higher education graduation.  Although other sponsored students have completed their higher education programmes in previous years and now serve their communities in diverse career fields, October 26th marks the first of our sponsored students who graduated from university. Many more are on university campuses at Gulu University, Kyambogo University and Makerere University – and in the higher education pipeline.


October 26, 2013 at Gulu University, Northern Uganda. From left: Anthony Ojok, UMECS Education Field Coordinator; Francis Opio, graduate; Charles Onencan, UMECS Executive Director; Augustine Okot, graduate and Joel Ojok, UMECS Counseling and Guidance Director

Our Developmental Approach 

We established the Northern Uganda Education Programme (NUEP) in the war zones of Northern Uganda in 2005 as a means to fully educate war and poverty affected youth with a developmental approach to educational sponsorships. Full financial support for education combines with mentorship, guidance, counseling and career guidance. A central goal is to foster community-mindedness among our sponsored students so that their careers address the development needs of a region recovering from war and strengthen the effort to eradicate poverty.  This commitment is illustrated by the sixteen UMECS students who graduated this year in a diversity of career fields.

Educating War-Affected Youth is an Investment in the Future

The Northern Uganda Education Programme demonstrates that war-affected children and youth neither are stereotypical “walking time bombs” nor are they stuck in the role of victim. Instead, war-affected children and youth, including former child soldiers, bounce back from their ordeals through their resilience if given a chance. That chance is education and rehabilitation.

Likewise, war-affected youth take life seriously and are forward-thinking. They have endured war and believe in peace. They have seen war devastate their communities and believe in development. They do not take life – or their educations – for granted. They believe that “with education comes responsibility” and believe in educating their families, developing their communities and serving as role models.

The stories of our recent graduates Augustine Okot and Francis Opio illustrate these points:

AugustineHeadShotAugustine Okot, according to statistical data, was not supposed to graduate from university in a region, Northern Uganda, where fewer than 20% complete secondary school. A happy early childhood in his ancestral village of Olwo-ngu in Pader district was robbed of its innocence when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group, swept into Pader, massacring and abducting non-combatant civilians, including Augustine’s mother and father. Raised as an orphan, Augustine had little chance of going past primary school until UMECS came along. In 2005, Augustine, Francis and others were among a cohort of students UMECS enrolled in secondary school to launch the Northern Uganda Education Programme. For the past nine years, UMECS sponsored and mentored Augustine at Kitgum High School, Pajule College and Sir Samuel Baker School in his O-level and A-level secondary school programmes, then at Gulu University.

Along the way, Augustine became personally developed, academically accomplished, confident, empathetic and community-minded. He also became a community activist, volunteering with an HIV/AIDS prevention organization to sensitize the community around HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and management in his home district of Pader.

Augustine excelled at Gulu University, adjusting to the university environment, joining study groups, applying himself diligently and graduating with a high GPA.

His career goals combine addressing underlying social problems as a community and family advocate with taking up the development gaps in his community, working with local government and community organisations. He also wants to volunteer with UMECS. “UMECS is the reason for my educational journey for which I am very grateful.”

“Our communities need all the Augustine Okots they can get,” says Margaret Akech, UMECS Peace Education Coordinator who has been one of Augustine’s mentors including at Gulu University. “Our communities need educated youth to return to their communities and transform conditions of poverty and the under-education of youth. This is why we admire Augustine Okot so much and all of our students who plan to transform their communities. Education transformed them and now they will transform their communities. This is how change happens.”

To read more about Augustine, click here.

FrancisHeadShotFrancis Opio, had UMECS not intervened, was bound to join the majority of youth whose educational completion rate does not go beyond primary school. Born and raised in Acoro parish in Pader district, his father died when he was an infant. His mother, an uneducated peasant farmer, raised Francis and his siblings in their village until the war turned their lives upside down. When Francis was ten years old, his older brother Okeny was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and killed. Francis was also abducted but following his witnessing a brutal killing, managed to escape. He and his family were displaced to Pader Town Council IPD camp where the overcrowded, unhygienic conditions were shocking. He and his family often went hungry waiting for food supplies from the World Food Programme. Infants died in large numbers from preventable diseases like dysentery and typhoid. He witnessed horrific violence such as camp residents being killed by LRA rebels who raided the camp. “The war,” says Francis, “targeted innocent civilians and made the children and youth bear the biggest scars.”

In 2005, UMECS selected Francis, Augustine and a cohort of other students and launched the Northern Uganda Education Programme. Francis started his O-levels at Kitgum High, completed at Pajule College and conducted his A-level programme at Gulu College and then on to Gulu University.

“Francis took his university education seriously,” says Anthony Ojok, UMECS Education Field Coordinator who is one of Francis’ significant mentors. “He was focused, thoroughly applied himself, joined organisations and made top grades. He is a natural leader and wants to help change his community in Pader. Francis is one of our many examples of the transformational power of education and how our developmental approach to education works.”

Francis plans to contribute to change in his community as a development officer in Pader district. “The level of education should rise up in our communities and the level of poverty should reduce. Standards of living should improve and people should get involved in productive activities in the community. Part of my role as a community development officer will be to motivate community members to be more active around increasing education levels and improving standards of living. I will also be a voice for the goals of my community.”

“As a child growing up in war, I never dreamt of a University education, not even visiting one. I am humbled by UMECS contribution to my educational journey. I am the first person from my family to attain a University education.”

Many 2013 UMECS Graduates Enter Diverse Career Fields

We are proud to announce that in addition to Augustine’s and Francis’ graduations at Gulu University, fourteen other UMECS sponsored students completed their higher education programmes this year and graduate this month and December. They are:

1. Godfree Opio, Diploma in Public Administration and Management, Nsamizi Institute for Social Development, Gulu

2. Churchill Oloya, Certificate in Public Administration and Management, Nsamizi Institute for Social Development, Gulu

3. Denis Oloya, Diploma in Civil Engineering, Uganda Technical College, Lira (graduation ceremony in early 2014)

4. Felix Oceng, Craft II Certificate in Block Laying and Concrete Practice, Kiryandongo Technical Institute, Kiryandongo

5. Innocent Onying, Craft II Certificate in Block Laying and Concrete Practice, Kiryandongo Technical Institute, Kiryandongo

6. David Okot, Advanced Certificate, Motor Vehicle Technician, Human Technical Development Center, Lira

7. Thomas Ocan, Certificate in Crop Science and Animal Husbandry, Busitema University Arapi Agricultural College, Soroti (graduation ceremony in early 2014)

8. Helen Akaeurut, Certificate in Catering and Hospitality Management, Uganda College of Commerce, Soroti

9. Stephen Acori, Craft II Certificate, Carpentry and Joinery, St. Kizito Technical and Vocational Institute, Madera, Soroti

10. Benjamin Okwi, Craft II Certificate in Carpentry and Joinery, St. Kizito Technical and Vocational Institute, Madera, Soroti

11. Leah Amuda, Certificate in Business Studies, Uganda College of Commerce, Aduku, Apac

12. Thomas Nyeko, Certificate in Business Studies, Uganda College of Commerce, Pakwach

13. Dick Omony Kawanya, Grade III Certificate in Primary Teaching, Primary Teaching College, Kitgum (graduation ceremony in early 2014)

14. Charles Otto, Tropical Medical Institute, Certificate in Medical Laboratory Assistant (graduation ceremony in early 2014)


Gulu University 2013 Graduation 061

UMECS graduates Augustine Okot and Francis Opio share a light moment on graduation day 26th October 2013 with UMECS sponsored students Polycarp Oyet and Denish Okello Oranga. Polycarp and Denish and four other UMECS sponsored students graduate from Gulu University in 2014. You can read Denish Okello Oranga’s story on our website by clicking here.

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