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Why the Education of Rachel and Rose Matters

They survived war – now they plan to empower their communities

Although they grew up in two distant sub-regions in Greater Northern Uganda, Rachel in Acholiland in Northern Uganda and Rose in Tesoland in the Northeast, they both grew up in the middle of war and armed conflict.

Both born in 1993, Rachel in February, Rose in December, they were born hundreds of miles apart, speaking different home-languages, growing up in different cultures. In 2007, an event would occur that would bring their lives together. First, their backgrounds.

RachelFinal Rachel and RoseRachel Abalo Scovia grew up with many challenges and was raised by different family members in various villages, towns and districts. Her mother was ill throughout Rachel’s childhood and Rachel was one of her caregivers. Three of her six siblings died from disease at early ages. An older brother was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and forced to become a child soldier for five years. When he  returned, he was severely traumatized.

In 2002, when she was nine, LRA rebels invaded her ancestral village in Kitgum. They demanded an ax from her grandmother, saying they were going to cut off Rachel’s head. Her grandmother knelt down and begged the LRA commander to spare Rachel’s life. Rachel and other children were then abducted by the rebels and force-marched from their village. All the children including Rachel were forced to carry heavy loads. Rachel was carrying cooking oil. As they marched through the night, many children became exhausted and could no longer carry the heavy loads. These children were killed by the rebels, smashing their heads as the rebel proclaimed: “Why waste bullets.” Fortunately for Rachel, the Ugandan national army, Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) was in close pursuit, keeping the rebels distracted.  On the second day of her abduction, Rachel managed to escape into the bush.

Shortly after her abduction, Rachel’s mother died, leaving her orphaned.  She continued to be raised by different family members but her maternal grandmother was her role model. “My grandmother taught me all the traditions and cared for me like my own mother.” Moving around from place to place like most children did during the war, Rachel attended many primary schools.

RoseFinal Rachel and RoseRose Asire was born in Katakwi district in Teso sub-region in Northeast Uganda. She was raised by her mother and aunt in Katakwi and Amuria districts.  During her childhood, the LRA war spilled over from Acholi and Lango sub-regions into Teso and Rose witnessed LRA rebels abducting children and forcing elders to serve as porters. She also witnessed the atrocities of war: “I saw dead people, mostly women, with lips cut off.”

Before the LRA war swept into her home area, she and her family were also affected by the generations-old cattle raiding by the Karamojong from the neighbouring sub-region Karamoja. When she was seven years old, her village was invaded by armed cattle raiders. They took her family’s cattle and burned down their house. After UPDF came to secure the region, Rose and her family were able to return to their village where they rebuilt their house.

Like Rachel, Rose moved from place to place with different relatives to escape the violence of war – from Katakwi to Amuria to Lira and back to Katakwi. Like Rachel, Rose attended many primary schools.

In 2007, UMECS entered the lives of Rachel and Rose, starting them both on educational journeys from secondary school to university, journeys that have transformed their lives.

Two years earlier, in 2005, UMECS established the Northern Uganda Education Programme (NUEP) in the war zones of Northern Uganda. NUEP was established as a means to fully educate war-affected children and youth and equally so, for sponsored youth to contribute to the development of their communities. We sponsor 111 war-affected children and youth in secondary school through higher education graduation, preparing them for community-minded careers as teachers and technicians, doctors and nurses, accountants, agriculturalists entrepreneurs and engineers.

In addition to paying all school fees, tuitions and other school-related costs, we provide ongoing culturally connected mentorship, guidance, counseling and career guidance.

In 2007, in Year 3, we expanded the programme from Northern to Northeast Uganda. There, we selected 20 students from high-poverty war-affected Katakwi district who had finished primary school – 12 girls, 8 boys – and enrolled them in cohorts in secondary schools in Soroti, two hours away. We formed a parents committee so the families of our newly sponsored students would remain engaged in the educations of their children, a committee which has continued on supportively all these years. Rose Asire was one of the twelve girls whom we enrolled in Senior 1 at St. Mary’s Girls Secondary School, Madera in Soroti.

That same year, we enrolled Rachel Abalo Scovia in Senior 1 at Sacred Heart Secondary School in Gulu.

Rachel and Rose’s Educational Journeys

Under our sponsorship, Rachel completed her four year O-level secondary school programme at Sacred Heart Secondary School in Gulu, Northern Uganda and her two year A-level secondary school programme at Bishop Cipriano Kihangire Senior Secondary School in Kampala. She performed well in both progammes. In August 2013, we enrolled Rachel at Gulu University as a candidate for a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, with a concentration in accounting. She will graduate in 2016.

Rose completed both her O-level and A-level programmes at St. Mary’s Girls Secondary School, Madera, Soroti.  In August 2013, we enrolled Rose at Gulu University as a candidate for a Bachelor in Development Studies degree. She will graduate in 2016.

Rachel and Rose, who are now close friends, are part of a cohort of fifteen UMECS sponsored students at Gulu University, six of whom graduate this October.

Their career goals

Rachel’s career goal is to be a community-based Certified Public Accountant (CPA). She also intends to teach an accounting course at the community level and will be a community youth counselor.

Rose plans to become a social worker, working with families and girls in her community. She is eager to influence girls to stay in school and to motivate families in her community to support girls’ education.

Following Footsteps

Rachel and Rose returning to their communities after graduating from their higher education programmes is part of the community development vision of UMECS Northern Uganda Education Programme, which is why we foster community-mindedness and emphasize the responsibility that comes with education. Rachel and Rose will be following in the footsteps of UMECS students like Joyce Ajok who following her training as a nursery school teacher, returned to her community in Pader and established Holy Angels Nursery and Primary School which she directs; and Richard Ocan who, following his vocational programme in building and construction returned to his community in Pader and is now a building contractor and jobs creator; and Charles Otto who following his programme at Tropical Medical Institute, returned to his community in Kitgum as a medical laboratory technician; and Pamela Aaya who following her training as a primary school teacher, returned to her community in Pader to teach primary school. Rachel and Rose will be following footsteps as qualified professionals and role models determined to transform their communities.

Rachel and Rose discuss pathways to peace, the power of education and the education of girls

The role of Peace Education

Rachel was a UMECS sponsored student at Sacred Heart Secondary School in Gulu when UMECS piloted Peace Education and Guidance & Counseling in Secondary Schools (PEGC), including at Sacred Heart where the programme is now in Year 5. As a result, like the more than 5,000 students who have been served by PEGC in seven secondary schools over the past five years, Rachel is acutely aware how PEGC has transformed students’ and teachers’ lives, and helped build understanding and experience in the practice of peace.

“The first PEGC year (at Sacred Heart) was a milestone. I learned how to create and sustain peace within me. Peace promotes togetherness. My role as a peer counselor helped to reduce the rate of violence in our dormitories. Many girls received guidance and counseling. Most of my peers had many of the same challenges I had in my childhood. PEGC created an atmosphere that gave room for everyone with a problem to be able to share it openly and we were able to solve our problems together.”

“Peace starts from oneself and sprouts out like a mustard seed,” says Rachel. “Inner peace must take center stage.”

“Wars can be prevented. You must find the root cause of conflict such as with the Hutu/Tutsi conflict. You need to look back. When did it start? Why did it happen? There should be mutual understanding at all levels.”

The Transformational Power of Education

Rachel:  “One gets away from the burden of illiteracy to a life full of sound and logical reasoning with mutual respect for one another. This transformation brings in a new culture of thinking and doing things in society. I have transformed in many ways and I am able to know how to approach people with diverse personalities and associate with them in a better way.”

21st Century Education

Rose:  “Practical subjects need to be introduced in secondary school such as management, tailoring, and practical projects so that youth have skills as well as knowledge. Technology needs to be upgraded in schools so that 21st century youth have 21st century technology skills. Primary education is not enough anymore, nor is secondary school enough. Today, youth need to have either a diploma or a degree. This can be practical, vocational and technical as well as academic, but education needs to be long term today.”

On Girls’ Education

Rose: “Girls need to become fully educated. Some parents take their daughters to school just to learn English. The parents teach them how to do domestic work so they can marry. They feel boys should study in school and girls should get married. Many girls who are at home want to be in school but they do not have the school fees.  It is better when girls go to school away from home so they can study and not be forced into domestic work. When they become educated, they will be able to properly help their families.”

Rachel: “Girls out of school need to be motivated. They need role models like us so they can see what happens when girls become educated. They need our presence in the community. We need to motivate and advise them and their parents that girls need to become completely educated.”

Our Upcoming Impact in our Communities

Rose:  “Even now when I go home, I am looked up to because I am at university.  As a social worker, I want to work with girls and mothers in village areas. Our own village is a needy community. I will work there and in nearby village areas.”

“Villages lack information about the importance of education and basic health information. I will work with girls on the importance of education. As a role model with a profession, and coming from the same village areas as they do, I will be able to be influential in keeping girls motivated about school. I will also focus on how girls avoid getting infections and other diseases. Girls need this kind of information, motivation and role models. They make change when the information is coming from someone they respect.”

Rachel:  “I will be a qualified CPA serving my community and I will help with the education of the children in my family to put them through school.”

“Through my profession, I want to offer employment in my community and help community members become skilled entrepreneurs and business people. I love teaching and want to teach a practical accounting course in my community. I especially want to work with the girls in my community and guide them to become completely educated. I also want to sponsor an orphan in school, an orphan who is not in my family, like UMECS is sponsoring me.”

In a world where there is so much war, poverty, suffering and chaos, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and look the other way.  However, when you invest in the education of youth like Rachel and Rose, you are investing in building peace and prosperity, in empowerment of youth through education and in community development. It is an investment in results and lasting change.

When you support UMECS, then we can continue to support Rachel and Rose and all of our other students to become the change agents their communities need. That’s how change is made. This is how conflict transforms to peace, disease succumbs to well-being, illiteracy to knowledge and skills, and poverty to prosperity.

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Many of UMECS sponsored students are in secondary school, in the pipeline for higher education. Rosemary, left, and Gloria recently completed Senior 6 at Graceland Girls Secondary School in Gulu and are awaiting their higher education admissions.

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In addition to Rose and Rachel, UMECS sponsors 15 students at Gulu University including, from left to right, Denis, Geoffrey, Denish and Brian.