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Re-vitalizing Rita’s dream to teach

“I want to be a teacher to impart knowledge to children so they are equipped to get jobs and help their parents, families and communities.”

By Helen Aneno Peru

Rita Lokoru is 13 years old and the youngest in a family of six daughters, who live with their parents in Nachuuka village, Nadunget Sub County, Moroto District. Her four elder sisters dropped out of school and were married off by the Father, Paul Akol. Rita and her 16 year old sister Jacinta Natee are the lucky ones. They are in school despite the hardship of dropping out as Rita is in in P.4 Nawanatau Primary School while her Jacinta is in P.5 at Kasimeri Primary School in Moroto District.

Akol, had a negative attitude towards education and orchestrated the marriage of his four daughters to obtain cattle. At some point he harboured intentions to marry off Rita and Jacinta.

Fortunately, Akol had a change of heart when he was registered to receive funds from the Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment (SAGE). The SAGE pilot social cash transfer scheme is a key element of the Government of Uganda's Expanding Social Protection Programme. SAGE aims to help tackle chronic poverty and address the impact of poverty and address the ability of poor people to access healthcare, education and other key services

Akol used the grant to set up a charcoal burning business to increase the household income. Akol’s eldest daughters had been involved in helping him in the charcoal burning business but left home to get married and the business suffered. It was at this moment that Akol began listening to radio talkshows on Nenah FM about the importance of education. Later he started attending community baraazas to encourage parents and guardians to enroll and keep their children in school.

“I champion the cause to send all my grandchildren to school. I have realized that it is the responsibility of every parent and guardian to provide an education to our children is key. Then God will open the way for more opportunities for these children’s future,” Akol said.

Akol has had to bear the brunt of a harsh environment that struggles to support cattle keeping in Karamoja. Climate change has affected the weather patterns and he has lost almost all of his livestock. 

“One time, I believed that marrying off my older daughters was best as their husbands would provide for essential needs and protect them from harm. However I changed [after] attending community baraazas that created a sense of awareness on the value of keeping my daughters in school. Different people in our community talk to parents and guardians about the advantages of Girl Child Education,” Akol said. 

To support this effort, Anthony Lokol, Local Council I (LC I), mobilized the village to ensure that parents enroll, retain and help their children transition from primary to secondary school and beyond. The LC1 threatened to sue Akol if he tried to marry off Rita and Jacinta.

He further monitored Rita’s movements and kept encouraging her to stay in school. He engaged with members of the school administration to permit Rita to stay and study, working out a modality on how she and her Mother would pay for school fees.

“Our children are the responsibility of not only the Government of Uganda but also the parents, guardians and caregivers. There is need to ensure that all families embrace primary and secondary education to help develop the future generation, giving them opportunity to extract themselves out of poverty,” Lokol said.

To support children obtaining an education in Karamoja, one of STF’s interventions involves community orientation and schools outreach conducted by Health Workers. These service providers from Nakapelimen H/C III in Moroto Municipal Council, South Division have two midwives conducting health talks in primary and secondary schools. At the same time, STF staff conduct Life skills training for Straight Talk school club Leaders to support their Go Back to School campaigns, convincing parents, guardians and caregivers to keep children in primary and secondary school.

Two School Club leaders, Regina Nangiro and Paul Lokiru also provide health information to pupils during assembly in their primary school. The STF interventions are funded by Irish Aid through UNICEF. 

“There were other girls like Rita and Jacinta who dropped out of School. But after talking to them and their parents, they were able to return to school,” stressed Regina. Paul also affirmed that girls’ absenteeism was also due to the inability to manage their menstruation situation. The school clubs provide free reusable pads and teach girls how to make them.

STF interventions with the School Management Committee (SMC) members has provided the enabling environment to keep girls like Rita and Jacinta in school. Sisto Lomuria and Betty Keem stressed that the plight of Rita and Jacinta is common within Nadunget sub-county. This is why the SMC lobbied and obtained support from another non-governmental organization called International Institute of Rural Reconstruction to provide opportunities to girls to return to school. This is done through the establishment of an income generated activity such as a goat project, with parents and guardians and pupils, to help them provide school requirements. 

“Rita is currently in P.4 and the SMC has agreed to keep her in boarding even without making any payment for boarding,” said Immaculate Ikilai, the senior woman teacher of Nawanatau Primary School.
The Straight Talk Foundation interventions have involved the community and school management committees to encourage parents, guardians and caregivers to support adolescents like Rita and Jacinta to stay in school. As a result, Akol offers support to Rita Jacinta with stationary requirements for their studies.
 
“Teachers talk to us, the parents, during the end of term SMC and annual PTA meetings. We have all pledged to desist from child marriage and value and support our children to get an education,” said Akol.

For Rita, this is one valued step closer to realizing her dream, to become a teacher. “I want to be a teacher to impart knowledge to children so they are equipped to get jobs and help their parents, families and communities.”

Rita is driven from the experience she and her sister Jacinta have faced. She is believes that it is her calling to help vulnerable children realize their dreams and become productive citizens of Uganda.
          
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