Written by Programs Officer Joseph Akure and Watye Ki Gen Staff
Over the last 20 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgence in Northern Uganda displaced approximately 1.8 million people. Tens of thousands were kidnapped, mutilated, or killed. In 2016, Vista Hermosa Foundation started funding the Ugandan organization Watye Ki Gen in hopes to reconcile and restore relationships for children born in captivity during the war. Upon return to their maternal communities, many children born in captivity faced rejection because of the alleged atrocities committed by their fathers (LRA rebels). Watye Ki Gen has offered sustainable livelihood training as one method to restore community relationships.
Nancy lives in Aneni village, a community that Watye Ki Gen is immersed in. In primary school, she repeated every class from grades 4-7 due to her performance and not meeting the standards needed to advance. Students like Nancy never stand a chance of gaining equal education and opportunity in the Ugandan education system, where schools compete for the highest average scores and girls face additional disadvantages because of their household expectations (i.e. cooking, cleaning, caring for siblings). Her teachers, school mates, neighbors and even family defined Nancy by her performance, labeling her a failure and many times even “dumb”.
“I wasn’t ashamed of repeating classes because I really wanted to prove others wrong that I can also still pass to the next class. But this never happened, until the teachers could push me to the next class out of sympathy. I was advised several times to get a man and try marriage, maybe it would work for me but I wasn’t interested at all because I thought even from my home the insults would continue….
When I sat for my Primary Leaving Examination in grade 7, I came out with F9 in all the 4 papers and that was the time I gave up on Education.“
An F9 is the worst score you can receive on the exam.
Last year, Nancy was nominated by the community to be trained as a tailor in the Watye Ki Gen tailoring program. Her labeled failure in primary school instilled fear in her and eroded her confidence. During interviews to join the tailoring class and review her background, the panel strained to hear her. “When it was Nancy’s time to be interviewed, we could hardly ear her voice, she was speaking so slowly and also fearful, but we picked interest in her,” they said. When the program first began, Nancy sat towards the back of the class and feared practicing while others were around. She sat alone, behind all of the other students and later decided to begin class before them and practice the lesson when no one could judge her.
The class was asked to design and stitch dresses as part of their learning process. Nancy amazed everybody with the beautiful dresses she made! Her teachers positively commented that her stitching was neat, and something changed inside of her. The appreciation and recognition restored and reignited Nancy’s self-esteem and confidence. During the graduation ceremony, Nancy was named the best seamstress out of all the enrolled girls. Tears streamed down Nancy’s cheeks and smiling face. She was invited to speak in front of her proud family and peers, “I have changed my story. Everyone will know that I was the best in my class. I am so happy!”, she cried.
Despite her perceived “failure” in formal education, Nancy has excelled in vocational training. Equipped with a sewing machine, newly acquired skills, self-confidence, and a supportive community, Nancy aspires to start a business and dress the Gulu community in style!