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.
“For me, my goal is to provide medical services to others” Emily remarks, with her eyes scanning the hospital grounds that surround her. Emily studies midwifery and is currently finishing her first year at Lacor Hospital Nursing School. She has thought about transferring into a nursing program, as the midwifery program at Lacor is quite young, but one thing is certain: Emily wants to improve the health of those around her. “For me, all along I was depending on others, after five years from now I should be helping others, especially at St. Jude. They did so much for me. I should help them, find a way to help them in return.”
Emily has been studying to practice medicine for some time. Like Gloria, Emily attended St. Mary’s Aboke for secondary school where she spent her A level (last two years of secondary school) specializing in biology and chemistry. She especially enjoyed chemistry from S2-S6 and often rose to the top of the class. Her favorite was organic chemistry. She also enjoyed biology “because [it] concerned our bodies… [it is] real, on the ground” in a way that she feels other subjects are not. The immediacy of biology fueled her passion for the subject, and her presence at Lacor stands testament to this.
Emily has a long history with St. Jude since she joined when she was only in nursery school. Spending most of her earliest years at St. Jude, she identifies heavily with the Home as the source of her success. As part of St. Jude’s resettlement program - where St. Jude attempts, when possible, to reunite children staying at the Home with their extended family - Emily returned to her grandfather’s care when she was in P5, around 2003. Many children entered St. Jude as a result of their families being separated during the war. By 2003, her grandfather was able to take care of her again. Reunification, however, does not mean that the connection to St. Jude also disappears. St. Jude, through an international donor, continued to pay for her secondary fees at St. Mary’s Aboke. The project, however, only supported students during their tenure at secondary school and not any further. This is where Rationale stepped in.
(“Let us learn to transform our society” - Sign at St. Mary’s Aboke)
Emily hopes to work in a hospital after she completes her studies. Studying at Lacor provides her with the opportunity to develop medical skills through hands-on training. Students keep a record of the work that they do in the ward, counting for up to 30% of their total grade. They may take the histories of patients, prep the patient for the nurse or doctor, or provide other forms of support for the hospital. They also have a demonstration room where exercises place students right in the middle of medical practice.
When asked about her plans for a family she offers a small laugh. “I will not be ready for a family in five years… I think maybe in ten years I will be married with a family, still working in a hospital.” She adds, “I should also be able to respond to you. There is no way I can forget about the sacrifice you in America did for me to support my studies. If there is anything I can do for you, I would want to be settled and able to help you by this time.”
Emily is not just a prolific student; she also likes to have fun. She was the leader of the Acholi traditional dance group at St. Mary’s Aboke and was recognized as one of the very best dancers at the school. She also enjoys drumming and often goes to the homes in her village to teach traditional drumming to the community. Her favorite style of music is contemporary hip-hop and she names Brandy, Rhianna, Ne-Yo, and Eminem - especially “I’m not Afraid” - as some of her favorites.
Emily is very social and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She says she looks forward to being a part of Rationale’s scholarship program because many other programs “just collect names” without building “that better relationship” that she has always hoped for. “It is important that those in the US get to know me,” she insists, increasingly resolute in her words. She is surprised when I tell her about our car wash fundraiser happening next weekend. “You mean the Americans, you, will be the ones washing the cars?” After I assure her that this is the case, she smiles. “That sacrifice is so good.”
We’re incredibly happy to have Emily be a part of the project, and look forward to her future as a medical professional!
(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!
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!
Greetings from Gulu!
This will be the first of many updates during my time here in Gulu and I’m excited to be able to share my experiences here on the ground with you all in the States (and elsewhere)!
First, a bit of reflection. The last few weeks have been busy visiting all of St. Jude’s programs, getting updated on the past six months of activity, and sharing the launch of Rationale with everyone at the Home. It has been an extraordinary experience to be able to reflect on the launch of this project alongside all of those that have made it possible in Uganda, as well as those students already benefiting from our programs. The response has been incredibly encouraging and I’m extremely grateful for having the opportunity to launch the project while I am here in Gulu. The relationship we are building is one that transcends the work of any one individual, the net of support of a well-meaning group, or the scope of impact possible by a near limitless pool of funds. We are building a community of individuals committed to the vision of having all secondary and university students affiliated with St. Jude Children’s Home unencumbered by school fees, of developing a space where one day these scholarships are available to each student through funds internal to St. Jude. This is why we invest in the farm and things are progressing quickly as usual!
St. Jude was eagerly anticipating the construction of a food storage unit during our last visit in November/December 2011, and sure enough I arrived to a near complete project last Friday when we traveled to the food security farm in Nwoya district to evaluate its progress.
The farm is currently 243 acres and is home to a near endless number of crops (groundnuts, rice, two varieties of maize [corn], cassava, beans, peas, simsim [sesame], boo [greens], millet, sunflowers for cooking oil, and more!). Given the expanse of the farm and relatively limited amount of labor to cultivate and transport the crops at the end of each harvest, it became clear that a large storage facility needed to be built to shelter the crops between transport periods. In less than six months that facility is now almost complete. After the installation of the roof and possible partitions inside it will be ready to store the yield of each harvest, saving time and resources by facilitating dedicated transport trips and maximizing the amount of produce that can be utilized by St. Jude back in Gulu. It is a massive structure that will be an asset to the future of the farm. We couldn’t be happier to see its quick success and the residual support it will provide to our programs on the farm.