Posted by Charles Komakech on Jan 14, 2018

Building A School Where There Was None

Coming from Gulu in the Northern part of Uganda. I am the eldest son of a family with three boys and one girl. My parents died when I was about eight. I was separated from my siblings and and went to live with my uncle. I grew up in a difficult political situation from dictators President Milton Obote–twice–, Idi Amin, Okollo to our current government who refuses to let go of his power as you may have seen in the news recently. The LRA (Lords Resistance Army) abducted me at an early age of about 14 years old. They began their reign of power in the mid 1980’s During my teenage years–because of war zone areas– education was not possible. Only thinking of where there was chance to live the next day. Food, shelter, medicine and other basic needs were only provided by the World Food Program, but it was not enough for the people to survive. Many lost their lives, their properties were taken and families divided. The government could not save the people because the rebels somehow overpowered the government army. Because there was no school where I was...

Playing It Forward

... where I was born, I started my primary one “first grade” in 1990 after eight years instead of the normal four years old. We used to study under the tree with sticks and dirt and our black-board was ground and we had no books. Each child was given assigned to write and do his or her work–in the dirt– and as the teacher passed by, they marked the work. Without paper to take home and study except to explain what marks you got when teacher was checking them.

Due to rebel activities and the long distance from home–approximately 4miles–I could not finished the year and I had to stop. 

The following year I started school again which was far from home because the near by school was closed due to war. I studied with many interruptions for six years to sixth grade and I could not take final exams because we were transferred to different camp, where we were brought for protection but not to study. Different attacks happen and hundreds of people lost their lives.Due to rebel activities and long distance from home approximately 4miles, I could not finished the year and I had to stop. The following year I started school again which was far from home because the near by school was closed due to war.

I studied with many interruptions for six years through to primary six and I could not take final exams because we were transferred to different camp, where we were brought to protected and live, not to study. During my education many different attacks happened, and hundreds of people lost their lives.

Late in 1996, my uncle who was a businessman in the grocery market sympathized with our family and picked me to come and stay with him while the rest of my brothers and sister could not all be accommodated because he was only running a small business.

I sat my primary leaving Examination in 1997 Dec on 2nd and 3rd. After examination, I had to go home and take care of my younger brothers and the only sister because they were staying with my grandmother.

On 13th Dec 1997 evening was the bad day when LRA came to our home and abducted me plus my uncle and another neighbor. Luckily my younger’s brothers and sister were with my aunty. They heard the news and run way in to bush.

There were over 200 soldiers who over ran and invaded our village that had far fewer people to protect it. So we could not defend ourselves from them. After taking control some slept in our homes and took each and everything they deemed important to them. At 5 a.m. we were tied with rope in a straight line as a group of five people to prevent us from running and escaping. After leaving home with them for one hour I lost direction, I could not figure out east and west.

Every evening, our hands were tied from the back to avoid any possible intention to escape and they slept in a circle putting us in the middle. Many attacks happened as we moved. They ordered us to not drop any thing we were carrying or you would be shot and killed. The wounded commanders were carried by abductees as their wounds healed. The women and girl abductees were distributed among the commanders to serve them and be raped if they wan’t to.

We were in the same group with my uncle and another man from our neighborhood home, they had families with children and I was the little boy among them. One day I was called to go where the commanders were, I thought my day has come, because earlier on they told us among the three one should be killed to demonstrate to the rest, the danger of escaping and to make ways for us not to be accepted back home. 

But the intention of calling me was different, they realized I was the school going boy and they wanted me to teach them how to apply chemicals in their hair since was approaching the Christmas time. 

I got some released because I was liked I could read instruction how to apply the chemicals in their hair.

Every evening if no attacked, we could sit in a group and they gave instruction on how to attack government army, they power the LRA has, the future outcome of the war. But warning each time that ‘we do not have prison any mistake you have to be killed’

The abductees always kill their friend who has broken the rules, that was one of the ways of keeping people forgot about escaping back home.

Many attacks happened while we are rotating in various districts in northern Uganda, and because I was moving on bear foot my feet were swollen but I had to pretend, as the pain could not be compared to death.

After weeks of moving around districts of Uganda the plan was to take all the recently abductees children to Sudan for further training and since I was getting weaker, I could not imagine I would reach Sudan, I was not seeing any opportunity to escape.

One day when we had attacks from government soldiers and they were using gunship plane, everybody extremely exhausted, that was when I made up my mind that I must leave before I could be killed .we never had anything that day and at around 11pm I wake up and tried to wake up my uncle so that we escape together, he was in a deep sleep and I run alone, because of various groups of LRA and Uganda Army I did run more than one km after realized nobody was following me. With my bore chest and with a small short I slept while standing until 6pm .I could not imagine I was alive because my soul was not with me.

I started struggling to find my way where home states, as I move down the river bank I show another group of LRA from a distance, I could not run much but they were not seeing me .I move in a lost direction until midday that was when I started seeing some sign of places where people used to come back .In the few minutes I reached home where some people were there, they took me to local area leader to register my statement. After the statement he rode me on a bicycle to the Army Barack, since the rule was all returnees must be taken to the barrack for further investigation. On reaching Barack, the soldiers put me under gunpoint to explain myself and tell them where my gun was and to explain what I did while still with rebels.

I stayed in Barack for a week waiting for vehicle from Gulu army headquarters to come for us, because of Several people escaping during that time, we were above ten people at the Army Barack we received a threat   letter for possible attack to the barracks, Army ’s families left the Barack and remained only soldiers and we the former abductees, life became unpredictable and some of us regretted why we came back. While in Barack we were treated as criminals because it was the same prison for armies who has broken the rules, we used to eat once in the evening 

I stayed in division H/Q for period of three weeks for statement making and investigation before I could be transferred to Gulu Support Children Organization for rehabilitation centre where you have to be kept there between one month to 12 months. They were providing skills training course for some few kids in tailoring, building, carpentry and bicycles repairs. While in GUSCO eating was the order of the day, almost everybody gain weight 

For my case I decided to go back to school though they doubted my possibility of furthering my education. What made me to go to secondary school was the result came while I was in GUSCO and I was the best in the school where I sat from, GUSCO shopped my school requirements for joining secondary that was Sir Samuel Baker School a traditional boarding school built by explore.

During my secondary studies I could escape when it come to planting period because my school fee was raised from farming, all school activities like sports, athletics, music I could mixed them because I utilized it for doing farming activities.

The worst experience was when I escaped from school during athletic competition period to go and plant my rice, I reached home and snake bite me, I left the school without permission.

The second worst experience was when Armies got photograph of a soldier training which got mixed up in my album from school from a friend who had an uncle who was a soldier, I was meant to be kill because they thought I was a rebel coordinator 

Despite all the up and down situation I passed in First grade with good grade in Agriculture 

I joined Uganda Advanced certificate of education with intention of doing Agriculture since most town students thought was meant for village children, mostly end I up in agricultural extension workers and teachers which I thought I could managed and Survive since most people do not like .I was admitted for Science combination but I went to school without calculator and because I could not afford immediate I had to go to history class since does not require calculator, that was the beginning of deviation of my dream .

In 2004 during my vacation with the hope to join teachers College, I decided to go to GUSCO to get volunteer work to keep me around town because the rebels activities had intensified. Hundreds of people were killed in the near by camp, Lukodi massacred in Gulu. Out of kindness of heart and being former person who went through their hands, they management asked for my home address for future follow up should anything come by, I left the place without expecting .I went and continued with my farming activities as I wait to join teachers college because it was only cheap undesirable course that the government provide sponsorship for it .

After a month I got an urgent called from my uncle to come to town, that there was a call from GUSCO concerning my education, I could not go home to dress up I proceeded with my bicycle. When I reached GUSCO, they told me that they have submitted my name to Rotary club because my school was perceived to be high since I am joining the University so they advised me to apply for admission. I did apply for a degree in Agricultural business management. Biggest university in Uganda and degree in education and degree in business administration from Gulu university .I was admitted in both universities but I was not sure of the source of funds, so I decided to pick Gulu university.

Things were not so clear at the beginning when I submitted my Admission letter to GUSCO, some were suggesting to me to do diploma in state of the degree course, it did not went well to some for former soldier doing degree course, but I stood on my feet that I had to do degree course because I had thought a white could not pay partial tuition .So I started attending classes after they gave me half tuition but was not enough to allow me registered. Until the following year when I got information that Irene Anena hired by Mary Westring was looking for me, when I got her she told me to write hand written letter, full photograph and a copy of admission letter. After a period of a month a full tuition was ready for the second semester, I was so pleased and I gained hope that I will finish.

I continued to received the tuition    through Ms Anena Irene, because of closed friendship I have developed with her I got email address of Mary Westring in 2006 and I opened my email address that is why my email address is .I started communicating to Mary Westring then to the late John Bozo, Christopher McBride who then wrote a mail that I am taking personal responsibility. Through closed communication I started requesting for personal requirement like bicycle, memory stick which enable store my coursework information.

In my second year last semester, during class for entrepreneurship I came up with business plan for poultry keeping, the business plan was reviewed by Mary Westring and she forwarded to one of Doctor who had poultry farm who then recommended for implementation of the plan, funds was availed. Immediately after my university I started the project and was going on well but after a batch of two that was when the whole country experience an outbreak of chicken diseases and I had to sit down the business.

At the end of year 2007 when Mary was going for presentation to Rotary club, she asked me if I had anything to say and I told her I want to do ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountant of UK), after presentation she sent me mail that my request has been approved and they wanted to know how much was required to do the course, because of foreign based course I could not estimate what was needed but I went ahead to register for the course and I started in 2008.Because of foreign based the fee was high as it was  pound  against dollars. Despite all variation in fee, I was able to finish the course in 2012 Dec .In 2013 I required for CPA course and I finished within a year using my effort 

My journey in work started with internships in 2010 as trainee internal auditor, same year I moved

In to accounts department as assistant Accountants, in 2013 I was promoted to Accountant position where I was earning 200 dollars a month, same year in August 2013 I joined World Vision Organization as Projects Accountant, I worked for three months then I moved to Uganda Electricity Transmission Company as projects Accountant, I finished the three years contract Dec 2016 and in 2017 April my Immediate boss got a job in Ethiopia and her position was advertised internally out of 600 staff I was the only applicant and finally 1st Dec 2017 I have been appointed Senior Projects Accountant .my salary grew from 1,200,000  in 2013 UGX to 5,500,000 UGX 2017 .

The school idea started in 2014 when I was with Electricity company, because through out the sponsorship I have been receiving mails from late John Bozza, Mary, Christopher Lynda and the same eco when they visited Uganda that we are not expecting any refund but we wish you play forward as one of the strong American culture .I have been thinking how best I could play forward. With the knowledge of Rotary activities that concern more about community I thought it wise to do something about my community.

I went home to share my thought with the community members people thought I had mental problem, others advised me to start taxi business but I told them am not after money but I am concerned about the future of young children since the public schools are far and not working well .The discussion never ended and I went back to Kampala to continue with my work. Whenever I see other villages in the country compare with my it kept me un settle and I believe I could do something about it .I went back for the second time to do consultation with community members for setting up school, I was put under pressure to bring all the money I have for school construction, I told them that was not how I was trained to do, I do not have much but I believe I will do it  .So others thought of showing a real bush area so that I get defeated technically .The show the area if I wish to continue with school idea .it took me two months clearing the bush where to dig the foundation unto Oct 2014 construction has not started and yet school was suppose to start in Feb 2015 , my life was made hard to discouraged me technically 

Because of high cost involved, I had to look for teaching opportunity in Gulu for weekends and maintain my job in Kampala .I works in Kampala Monday to Friday and l leave Kampala at evening times and reached Gulu between 3am to 5AM depending on the time I left Kampala. After conducted my lessons evening I had rush to School check the progress of the school, then the following day I had to travel back to Kampala.

In Feb 2015 we opened the school with few teachers and when school building were not roof, because time and money wasn’t on my favor, but I continued to encourage parents that I will keep there children safe despite there were no roof in some building. First year of operation we had 100 children but as we continued with campaign and parents were seeing the performance of children more trust was built. In the second year I run advert radio about half bursaries we are offering best children from other schools pay half of fee and any person who referred us to a parent will get 20,000UGX (6 Dollars upon a child is registered with us) Everybody in the community was campaigning for the school because of the reward.  Third year in operation had 300 children and could not absorbed more because we lack facilities like sitting, bedding.

The success of School has been continuous because of; advertising of school, lowest rate of fee in the region, teachers recruited from various parts of the country, Acceptance of installment payment, Bring four children one study for free, highly discipline children recognized in the County, professional handling education matter, high quality feeding program and being voted the best feeding program in the district  .The historical background of the proprietor of the school his education being highest in the community despite the situation , all these success story has been pulling factors for parents to transfer their children to Garden of Knowledge School .

Success of my life so far stem from personal strength and the opportunity offered to further my strength, the mails and video call I have been getting over the last 14 years can not be forgotten to reach this far.