Yesterday, a team from Rationale joined St. Jude on a very special trip to their food security farm in Nwoya District (the district just to the southwest of Gulu). Our students are very familiar with the farm; they often work on the farm during their holiday breaks in order to give back to the larger St. Jude community and to learn important agricultural skills. The farm is a familiar space for most of Rationale’s team, which on this trip included Aciro Gloria, one of Rationale’s student-scholars, Ocitti David Okech, Rationale’s mentor, and Matthew, Rationale’s founder and director. The older women who serve as adopted mothers for the younger children at St. Jude also regularly visit the farm to help produce the food that their children consume back at the Children’s Home in Gulu. There is one group, however, that is not familiar with the farm: the children themselves.
St. Jude currently has almost 150 youth in their full-time care. Many rarely – if ever – visit the farm, as a result of both practical concerns (how to transport and then watch over so many children on the farm) and issues of safety. Yesterday was a special visit where we brought about twenty-five of the youngest children who stay at St. Jude to the farm in order to learn about where their food comes from and how it is produced. For some, this was their first time leaving the compound, for others, their first time leaving Gulu. They sat in absolute wonder and with progressively widening smiles as they struggled to see over edge of the window. With wide eyes they danced to the radio and sang in unison in the back of the truck throughout the hour-long drive.
As Denis, the farm’s manager, showed David and Matthew around the new fields, Julius accompanied the children as they learned about each of the crops being produced on the farm (maize, cassava, groundnuts, bananas, rice, beans, millet, boo, eggplant, and others) and participated in the many activities that their regular upkeep requires. They toured some of the hundreds of acres of land on the property and at mid-day each enjoyed a fresh plate of posho [a starchy food made from boiling maize flour] and beans produced and cooked directly on the farm. This is a meal they often have in Gulu without any idea where it comes from. Yesterday we were able to change that.
We believe strongly in the importance of lifelong learning, a process that must start early. While Rationale is intent on focusing on secondary and university youth, we were happy to join St. Jude for this fantastic community-building visit to their farm in Nwoya.
Rationale currently has three students enrolled in our scholarship program: Gloria, Francis, and Emily. Gloria will begin her first year at university this August, Francis is in S2 (year two) at Gulu Army High School, and Emily will be entering her second year at Lacor Hospital Nursing School (also university). Each student was recently asked to compose a small profile about themselves; this was the result, beginning with Gloria.
Gloria is the first university student to benefit from Rationale’s scholarship program and will begin her studies at either Gulu University or Mbarara University in August. In Uganda, promising secondary students who successfully complete their sixth year of secondary school with passing scores apply to university programs throughout the country. Like the many young Americans who apply for college in their senior year of high school, this is an incredibly exciting time. Students will be challenged more than they ever have before, spend countless sleepless nights studying for their exams, and establish relationships that will last for the rest of their lives.
Gloria cannot wait. She has applied to agriculture, medicine, and IT programs at Gulu University and medicine and nursing programs at Mbarara University. Each university will select the program they believe she will best succeed in given her specializations in secondary school (Gloria’s were biology, chemistry, geography, and agriculture, or BCG/A) and from there she will decide where to attend this Fall. The list of accepted students should be posted any day now and soon a new class of Ugandan youth will begin their university studies for what will be a significant milestone in each of their lives.
“If I could study anything, it would be agriculture,” Gloria responds with a smile across her face, “because most agriculturalists are self-employed. They don’t sit around and wait for things to be done for them; they make their own employment.” Job prospects for agriculture graduates from Gulu University are high right now and residents of Gulu know this well. David (mentor for Rationale) agrees, and self-employment is only one of the paths to success a student studying agriculture can follow: “When a student enters Gulu University for agriculture they know they have a guaranteed job with the government” or by employing themselves, he explains, and this makes all the difference in an uncertain economy.
Gloria’s time working on St. Jude’s food security farm will give her a serious advantage. Each time she visits the farm she is learning valuable skills not only as a student but as a future professional. Gloria received similar training when she went to St. Mary’s Aboke Secondary School for A level (advanced level; years five and six of secondary school). St. Mary’s is known internationally for the mass abduction that took place in 1996 at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The story of the Aboke girls, where 139 young women were abducted from their school and taken to the bush, brought some of the earliest international attention to the conflict in northern Uganda. St. Mary’s has moved forward from this tragic event with great strides and is recognized today as an outstanding center of learning for young women. As part of greater sustainability projects enacted at St. Mary’s, they source nearly all of their food - 85% by some estimates - on site. The students are a major part of this and Gloria has had the benefit of being surrounded by these projects throughout her studies.
(One of many signs hanging on the trees at St. Mary’s Aboke)
Her dream is to one day own her own land on which she is able to put her agriculture degree to good use by being self-employed.
Aside from her studies, Gloria likes to keep busy which often includes picking up the next book on her list. She is currently finishing up an American mystery novel and is eager to begin reading her next choice: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Her friends describe her as “free, sociable/outgoing, honest, respectful, and giving,” and we couldn’t agree more. It is truly an honor to have Gloria represent Rationale’s first class of university students. We look forward to seeing where her bright future will take her! More updates will surely follow!