The Story of Charles Otto

Charles Otto lost his parents to LRA brutality. Now he is preparing for a career in medical technology and as a surgeon.


Charles Otto’s dream is to heal the sick, cure disease through research, treat preventable diseases and serve his community as a surgeon in his rural home district of Kitgum in Northern Uganda. Charles Otto was thirteen years old when he joined UMECS Northern Uganda Education Programme in 2005. Life had not been easy.

When he was two years old, his mother was beaten to death by LRA rebels and when he was six, his father was abducted, never to have been heard from since. Two of his brothers – Charles is the 8th born of nine siblings – were abducted by the LRA. When he was eight, he learned from his sister that she was not his mother, and learned how his mother died. By then, he was living in an overcrowded displacement camp where people were dying of preventable diseases and LRA massacres, some of which he witnessed. Despite it all, Charles found solace and hope in primary school. An older cousin Andrew Olal helped with some of the things he needed in primary school. He passed his Primary Leaving Exam well, but there was no possibility his sister or cousin could afford to send him to secondary school.

Today, at age 21, Charles is in higher education, completing the second year of a medical laboratory technician programme at Tropical Medical Institute in Kampala, preparing to become a lab technician, and then, returning to university to become a surgeon. Currently, he is interning at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kitgum district, Northern Uganda serving as a lab technician where he interned last year.

“Thank God my prayers were answered. UMECS came to my rescue, enrolling me at Kitgum High School for four years in O-level, then at Sir Samuel Baker School in Gulu for my A-level. I was expelled from Sir Samuel Baker for indiscipline and UMECS mentored and counseled me which made me explore the source of my indiscipline. I improved my self-discipline and focus and UMECS continued my A-level programme at Antonio Vignato Secondary School in Kitgum where I continued with my A-levels. I studied Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Entrepreneurship. I passed with enough points to enroll at Tropical Medical Institute where I am doing well and appreciating the programme.

“Last year, I interned at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kitgum as a lab technician and this opened my eyes. I was shocked by how many patients have medical problems which are not well diagnosed and they are not properly treated. This widened my career vision. I plan to graduate from Tropical Medical Institute and serve as a lab technician at St. Joseph’s Hospital for two years. Lab technicians are the engines of hospitals. Then I will go to medical school to become a surgeon. I want to serve the people from the communities I come from with professional medical treatment and perform surgeries. I will also devote my life to extensive research to discover the causes of many diseases which plague my communities. I am disturbed by Nodding Disease. The cause is still unknown and children are dying.

“…My war experience is a story that shall live with me for a very long time. Losing my dear mother was painful. My younger sister is still at home with no one to help her and she has dropped out of school. The IDP camp experiences will take generations to fade away. Our houses were burnt down. Many friends were abducted and turned into child soldiers. Many perished. My sister was ganged raped when she went to fetched firewood. Many people died of preventable and treatable diseases. The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate shot up above the national prevalence rate. The rich culture of my people deteriorated. Our people lost their source of livelihoods. The cattle, the land, the villages and the farms. Our people became dependent on relief food items all because of the war.

“Peace can be built in the society through programmes like UMECS Peace Education and Guidance and Counseling Programme. This programme has done a lot to rectify the lives of war-affected children.

“Working to unite parties in conflict with reconciliation before a war starts is how to prevent wars. To be united, people must reconcile.

“…UMECS is my mother and father because it has brought me this far and I will forever be grateful and indebted to them. I will help UMECS in trainings of guidance and counseling and in any other activity.

“…education has transformed me. In Senior 2, I joined the debating team and built my confidence and presentation skills. I can now speak in public with confidence. I was elected to leadership posts building my leadership skills. I learned self-respect during my schooling and even now when I respect the privacy of patients, this gives me self-respect. I can diagnose and treat diseases. I can serve my community with skills that are needed. I have become a role model.

“…every youth in Uganda must become educated. We cannot continue with uneducated societies. The A-Factor Project will excite the youth. This project will work because the youth are still willing to dig. They will be excited to learn new ways and become skilled. They will become self-sufficient by earning the funds to pay for their education. This programme can sweep the society.

“…Parents need more motivation to educate their children. In my village, there are only four of us who proceeded to higher education. Although parents lack fees, they can be sensitized to understand how education benefits them and their children. Parents will increase their agricultural pursuits and make crafts to raise the school fees. I can help to motivate parents and youth because they will see people like me who are like them and they will understand this is what happens with education. They will want to do the same for their own children.”