A little over a year ago, Gloria Nicole Apio lived a hopeless life in Acholi Quarters slum but her selfless dedication to volunteering opened doors for her to showcase skills in journalism and public speaking. She now has a chance to live her dream after being selected to represent Uganda at the prestigious International Young Reporters Programme in Italy after topping a pool of more than 500 applicants, writes Saltray Lubega.
An age-old adage says one should never curse life when still alive. For Gloria Nicole Apio, this wouldn’t have been more realistic. Right from childhood, Apio has known the slum area of Acholi Quarters as her home. It is located in Banda on the outskirts of Kampala but is renowned for housing several internally displaced persons (IDPs), especially from northern Uganda.
She was born there, raised there by a single mother and witnessed several crimes and injustices that became part of her life. Now aged 21, Apio says being alive alone is a miracle of its own after what her mother, Fortunate Acayo, went through.
“She told me that I was born a twin but my twin brother passed on just days after birth when our dad abandoned us,” Apio says with a brave but sad face. “My mother says she returned home to give our father the good news of giving birth to twins but instead of being excited, he kicked us out of the house into the biting cold of a rainy night that led to my brother’s death.”
From then on, Apio’s mother gathered every effort to raise her and two other siblings amidst difficult conditions such was working as a house help and babysitting for other parents. On her part, Apio grew up witnessing several incidents of child abuse, rape and even murder, but somehow she managed to steer clear, mainly due to her dedication to studies.
“I always performed well in class and that inspired me to focus on academics,” she says. “Unfortunately, many of my peers couldn’t make it beyond primary school and went on to start families.”
She reckons that it was always a struggle to raise school fees on top of having a decent meal at home, which was a one-roomed mud-and-wattle hut. In spite of the tough livelihood, she always hoped to become a journalist so that she may one day highlight the plight of her community.
However, she never dreamed that she would live to witness the things currently happening in her life. Apio would defy odds to complete A-level in 2017 but she couldn’t further her studies after her mother failed to raise tuition for tertiary education. And with that, her hopes of becoming a media personality were dashed.
Whereas she remained hopeful, immediate necessities required her to settle for menial jobs within the slum such as washing clothes for others to earn a living for the household. But just when tough conditions were about to devour her into the social vices, the Aliguma foundation came knocking on her door looking for young enterprising youth to empower.
From then on, she took it upon herself to coordinate foundation activities such as football tournaments as well as skilling programmes. That is when her oratory talent came to the fore and in no time, peers tagged her ‘Queen of the Microphone’ due to her ability to fearlessly speak about the evils suffered by the girl-child in the slums and also communicate with her peers on living responsibly.
With time, her tireless work and plight of dropping out of school became the foundation’s responsibility to ensure she resumed education, something that was made possible by the foundation’s friends and partners.
DREAM TURNS INTO REALITY
Through efforts from the foundation partners, Apio enrolled at the Uganda Institute of Business and Media Studies (UIBMS) to pursue her dream of becoming a journalist last year.
And as part of her internship work, Apio has already appeared on the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) TV and Magic FM. Those opportunities gave her exposure to opportunities.
On April 2, Apio was seconded to attend the prestigious International Young Reporters Programme in Italy in June after her compelling story from adversity to inspiration touched the programme organizers.
She beat off competition from more than 500 applicants to the programme that brings together 60 participants worldwide. The sports-oriented three-month training equips participants with skills in news gathering, writing, commentating and leadership.
She still lives in Acholi Quarters with her mum and when The Observer visited to break the news to her, tears of excitement rolled down Apio’s cheeks as she failed to hold back excitement. Her mother was quick to link it to divine intervention, citing her past association with Italians.
“I used to work as a volunteer for Italian missionaries here in Uganda,” Acayo says. “For about 10 years, I used to clean and cook for them. I always worked with passion and little did I know that my child would end up in Italy one day. This comes as a great miracle,” the emotional and teary mother confessed while on her knees as she endlessly raised her hands in the air to praise God.
On her part, Apio looks forward to using skills attained from the programme to foster the empowerment of the girl-child, especially the vulnerable ones in slums.
“I feel very lucky to be where I am but I have not reached anywhere. My hope is to use my plight and inspire many other Apios out there to keep hope and, not give up on life,” she says. “I am so grateful to the Aliguma Foundation for the opportunity of a lifetime and I promise to make everyone who trusted me, proud. I want to be an ambassador for positive change in my community and beyond.”