In an ongoing effort to redevelop the war ravaged parts of northern Uganda, Pader Girls’ Academy, currently catering to 200 child mothers in secondary and vocational education, hopes to set up nursery and primary sections.
The school in Pader district has restored hope and esteem to the victimized girls, who, following the LRA insurgency, had dropped out of school, bore children without known fathers and lost hope of a bright future.
The girls’ lives were defined by camp life which included queuing for handouts. When the government directed the camp closures in 2007, sending the residents to their ancestral homes to start a new life, the psychological effects carried on.
To many, it was the pain of missing school that hurt most.
“Being out of school is what I hated ever since I was made pregnant at 14 years by the ruthless rebels. I never imagined I could miss education for the rest of my life and how could I take care of my four-year-old child?” Nancy Ayo told The Observer last week. Ayo, 18, is in senior three.
Pauline Akello, the head girl, sheds tears of joy each time she enters class to listen to a teacher’s voice. “I was abducted in 2002, travelled as far as Congo, danced to the tune of the rebels for six years.
My friends were killed, and never shall they ever come to start a new life here at Pader Girls Academy where former abductees, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are studying comfortably,” she says.
The school, founded in 2008 as a sub-project of the Christian Counseling Fellowship (CCF), hopes to enhance girl child education in this region.
Alice Achan, the executive director of CCF Pader, says the project funded by War Child, World Vision, International Aid Services and Uganda Fund among others wants to boost vocational and secondary education for the girl child directly or indirectly affected by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group.
“We have closely worked with CCF in our phase one work for two years now; the goal was to help get former abductees back to school, reintegrate them with their families and enable them acquire life skills,” said Mark Waddington, the chief executive director at War Child.
The war child mothers who failed to join secondary education study for a certificate in either catering or tailoring at the academy’s vocational training section.
Beatrice Atim, the head teacher says 114 students are enrolled for vocational studies and only 162 are in the formal section.
“The school is licensed by the ministry of Education and Sports and soon we shall get an examination centre number so that our students can freely sit their national exams here at school. This will save the students the inconveniences they experience, since mothers with babies are not allowed in other schools,” Atim stated.
Day and night caregivers take care of the more than 50 babies of the war child mothers to enable them attend class.
“We have seven day and three night caregivers who look after the babies as the mothers attend to their lessons; kids are only breastfed during break and lunch hours at the baby care centre,” explains Atim.
With only four vocational instructors and 14 secondary teachers, Atim plans to start a nursery school to accommodate the growing number of babies.
“We hope that as mothers go through the secondary studies, their children would be ready to join nursery and primary school studies. We will ensure they attend school because our aim is to ensure that education levels of the young in the region rise,” said Atim.
“My parents never rejected me and I have no reason to reject my child. Since the school is taking care of my son as I go to school, I plan to study hard and become a nurse so that I set up a clinic and help my people,” says Night Oyela, a senior one student with a one-year-old baby.
Jennifer Lamwaka, a first-year tailoring student says she will start a tailoring workshop upon completion of her studies.
“Most people out in the central, eastern or western region think we in the north are still at war. My message is they should welcome us and freely allow us carry out the industrial training in their various places; we have the skills and knowledge required in the field,” she says.
Waddington says they have plans to ensure the students attain employment so they could lead a positive life.
“The students studying catering here at Pader Girls’ are important; we are reaching out to several hotel owners to avail them internship and instantly take them on,” Waddington said.
The school encourages its students to learn, love and take on science subjects. “To date we have an ongoing science laboratory construction funded by World Vision; this will enable the school end the bias students have against the sciences; they will have frequent practical sessions,” Atim said.
They are drafting a two-year school business plan, although, Atime is worried how they would cope after the donors withdraw.
“We have many girls in the villages who long to join the school but our resources are scarce. We call on well-wishers to join the struggle and help the girl child stay in school,” she said.