Uganda: Survivor of Museveni-Kony War Brings hope to others Through vocational training

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Ms. Lalam

[Education-Enterprise]

GULU, Uganda--Misfortunes can come sometimes be turned into opportunities when one is as determined and dedicated as Betty Lalam. She survived the pain of war and trauma to cut a niche as an independent woman who now stands with her head high amidst life’s challenges.

Ms. Lalam started Gulu War Affected Training School (GWAT) from her makeshift spot but later acquired permanent structures. The former victim of the war between Gen. Yoweri Museveni and Joseph Kony's Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) now gives hope to many victims like her through vocational education.

The school provides skills training to over 50 students who study various courses ranging from catering, tailoring hair dressing, computer training and adult literacy, among others.

The school now boasts of infrastructure worth over 500 million Uganda shillings, or $13,881, and earns nearly10 million shillings each semester.

Ms. Lalam is a single mother of one. Her life was disrupted at a young age when both her parents were murdered by the LRA rebels. Her village in Koro Abili was attacked in 1990.

She was adopted by her elder sister who was also financially struggling.She had to face the uphill task of trekking 5 miles to school every day, fetching firewood and also gathering lemons that she would sell in order to raise her school fees to finance her education.

After getting pregnant while she was only in ninth grade, Ms. Lalam had to leave her sister's home until she delivered. After surviving with other relatives before her sister took her in again and decided finance her education at Nakawa Tailoring School in Kampala.

"I returned in 1999 after the tailoring training and my brother offered to buy me a sewing machine. I later joined GUSCO where I trained former returnees in tailoring skills until 2005 when the contracted ended," Ms. Lalam narrates, referring to
Gulu Support the Children Organization.

Starting the school was not easy since she was renting a grass thatched house in Bardege Division, Gulu Municipality from where she began training nearby girls with tailoring skills for free. Most of them came from disadvantaged families and therefore couldn’t afford tuition fees.

"Formerly abducted girls begun looking for me after they were referred by their colleagues as the numbers grew," she says adding that: "I requested my land lord to offer me the veranda of his house to begin training the girls for free. The only thing required was money from the girls for their graduation gowns."

Break Through: In 2006 World Vision, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), sent 60 formerly abducted children for training in her school. This time they had their school fees paid at the cost of 300,000 shillings for the entire course. Ms. Lalam used the earnings to buy five more sewing machines for training.

"Because my school was growing, I begged my land lord to add me more space so that I can put up a makeshift shelter to be used as classes," she adds.

2009 was her turning point. Mr. Henry Thanduyise, the South African High Commissioner to Uganda, who had visited Acholi sub region to support women enterprise in war-affected communities, pledged to construct and furnish for her permanent classrooms.

"When the officials from Eskom, the company contracted to put up the classroom structures came at a time when it was raining seriously, they were so impressed that the students endured the rain in the makeshift class rooms. This experience compelled them to build five more class rooms and they gave me 10 sewing machines; and in 2010 they begun to construct a 200 million shilling classroom block," says Ms. Lalam

Since 2005 the school has held at least six graduation ceremonies and passed out 3,615 students. Three different South African High Commissioners to Uganda have attended the graduations.

The school boasts of a fully equipped ICT computer canter worth Shs 100 million, which was launched by the MTN's Executive Director, Venhelleputte in June 2017.

"We believe there is a direct link between improved literacy and social economic status of the community. We are committed to supporting such initiative that further enhances human capacity as a spring board of human development. Today, ICT skills are like a pen and paper of what literacy used to be 20 years ago," says the MTN boss.

MTN is one of the largest communications company on the continent.

The South African High Commissioner to Uganda, Professor L. S. Mollonoted says that the computer facility will also have access to internet connectivity for a year. "Whatever project the girls are going to be doing at the center, one can access internet so they are able to improve on their innovation so as to improve skills being got in class," he said.

Lalam reveals that the school staffs have worked so hard and they have been able to buy land in Koro Sub County where they plan to set up a school which will also offer vocational training at diploma level.

"I have peace of mind because the former returnees are changed after leaving the center because of the continuous counseling that is given to them which has enabled them to re-integrate into the community," she says.

Challenges: "My level of education is a threat to me," she confesses, regretful that she only completed ninth grade. "My ambition is to manage an institution that offers diploma and degree courses. This has scared me a lot and I am too shy. I am so busy that I can't get the time to go back to school for adult learning," she notes.

She should be reminded that even Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and one of the world's wealthiest man also dropped out of college after two years.

Other challenges: the graduates lack their own equipment to start their own businesses after completing studies; and, the school cannot afford to pay teachers--most are volunteers.

"The center needs more external support if it’s to realize a free vocational training for war survivors in the greater northern Uganda," Ms. Lalam says.

This entrepreneur welcomes any support to help expand her school.

Ms. Lalam can contacted via +256-774671572.

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