(Francis with a view of Gulu Town)
Francis is the very first beneficiary of what is now Rationale. Jaclyn and Matthew met Francis on the farm in December 2011 when we were in the process of finalizing the logistics that needed to go into founding Rationale as a functioning non-profit organization in the US. Amidst our conversations with Julius (the deputy director of St. Jude Children’s Home) he asked us to consider a young man who had been living and working on the farm for the past year, anxiously awaiting the moment when he could continue his studies, as our potential first beneficiary. Francis had been out of school for four years after the passing of his late uncle who was paying his fees and had spent the last of these four years at the farm, with the hope that he could be enrolled in a scholarship program through St. Jude. While Francis did not stay at the Children’s home in his earlier years, he lives in the community and through his involvement with the farm has become a member of the St. Jude community.
The commitment Francis made to return back to school was clear. He spent the entirety of 2011 working on what is a remote farm in Nwoya District with a group of young men all hoping for the same thing: a chance to return to school to finish their studies. The group kicked around a soccer ball to pass the time as cassava and beans were prepared for lunch for all of us on the farm that day. When the opportunity arose they would switch to volleyball, showing off their moves as they struggled to keep the ball in the air after they each took turns dealing the ball an especially powerful strike.
Speaking with Francis now, six months after resuming his studees, it is clear how pivotal that time at the farm was for his eventual encounter with Rationale. In fact, it’s difficult to characterize it as anything but an extremely unlikely series of events. He explains how he was first connected with the farm: “I live in the community just next to St. Jude and one day I was walking by the Home when my friend saw me. He called me on his mobile and asked what I was doing. My friend said he was going to a farm in Nwoya with St. Jude and that I could join if I was free.” Francis spent the day collecting firewood with the students at St. Jude, learning about the possibility of staying permanently on the farm.
A year had passed by the time we arrived at the farm to begin the project, but Julius did not hesitate to identify Francis as the most appropriate recipient of Rationale’s first scholarship. Time was running out, and his year at the farm looked like it was going to be extended indefinitely. We decided to enroll him immediately. The year of hard work paid off, and Francis enrolled at Gulu Army Secondary School just a few weeks later. (Note: Gulu Army is named as such because it is located directly next to the barracks and many of its students are the children of military families. Gulu Army SS is not, however, a military school.)
(Jaclyn, Francis, and Matthew at St. Jude Children’s Home in December 2011)
Francis is 20 years old and is in the midst of completing S2, his second year of secondary school. When asked about his goals, he responds that providing for his late uncle’s wife and children must be at the top of his priorities. While his uncle’s wife, with whom he stays, would prefer that he go directly into a vocational program so that he can begin working as soon as possible, Francis has instead decided to complete S4 before beginning a course in mechanics or a similar field. His favorite subject is chemistry “because you are doing something more than just sitting or reading. You see the work you do right in front of you.” The appeal of hands-on work will lend itself well to his aspirations. In five years, he hopes to have completed S4 and the three year course, prepped to enter the job market. Like Gloria, Francis will be entering a field in high demand: construction is growing exponentially in Gulu and the surrounding northern districts, especially as the prospect of city-status continues to implore the town to expand. Any course he decides to pursue after S4 will place him at the center of this construction boom.
When asked to describe what he likes to do for fun, away from school, he responds without hesitation: “football [soccer].” His favorite club? Manchester United. His Euro Cup team, Portugal, unfortunately didn’t make it as far as he had hoped. I wasn’t surprised to hear that soccer was his favorite sport, because it is when kicking around the soccer ball at the farm that we first met. The laid back, “cool guy” (as his friends describe him) that we met in 2011 has come to be our first beneficiary and the trailblazer for our program for secondary students. Best of luck to him as he wraps up the end of this academic term this month!