GAM fathered 150 children in Pagak Chapel- Gulu Archdiocese Northern Uganda

Godfrey Alanya Memorial- (GAM) Youth Scholarship Program was initiated by an American Catholic Catechist from the USA named Gus Zuehlke who visited the Archdiocese of Gulu in 2004. Together with Fr Joseph Okumu (then Director of St Joseph’s Catechists Training Centre) visited Pagak camp, one of the biggest camps during the insurgency in 2004. During the above visit, he happened to meet the late Godfrey Alanya (then a Catechist at Pagak Chapel) with whom they discussed several challenges in the camp. Among them was a lack of reliable communication systems and I quote ‘so much is happening in Northern Uganda yet the outside world seems to know nothing of it’. There was a high level of poverty making most families not able to provide basic needs to their children, and lack of formal education due to lack of funds, loss of positive cultural values, high level of domestic violence among families, idleness leading to alcohol & substance abuse, etc.

After listening to the above challenges, Gus then agreed to support the improvement of communication systems which led to the establishment of a community network called BOSCO Uganda (Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach Uganda) and to support the education of a few secondary school-going children from disadvantaged youths whose parents/ guardians were living in Pagak Internally Displaced Camp- (IDPS) or those whose parents’ guardian were killed by the LRA.

Northern Uganda especially the Acholi sub-region underwent insurgency due to civil war which lasted for over 20 years from 1996 to 2007 forcing people to flee their homes into IDPS for safety while others went into the Diaspora. From the camps, the people who were typically peasant farmers, could not get access to their land in order to grow crops for consumption and sale. They therefore relied purely on food distributed by the government and NGOs only for consumption.

The objectives of the program have been to;

  1. Provide scholarship that supports the education of disadvantaged children in Secondary Education
  2. Empower youth with vocational skills for self-sustainability
  3. Peacebuilding by advocating for peaceful co-existence
  4. Restoration of Acholi’s positive cultural values

Impact of the program

“If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.” Confucius. Thank you, Gus, since the inception of the program in 2004 we have learned how you have prepared us for hundred years to come. The program has supported over 150 students within Pagak and areas around by Gus with his board in the USA managed locally by BOSCOUganda staff. A number of those supported have joined the job markets as nurses, midwives, teachers, builders, carpenters, hospitality/ hotel management, tailors, drivers, communicators, farmers, electricians and seminarians among others. They are serving humanity through the different skills and knowledge that they have acquired. Through the education received, they are able to survive in this competitive World. Education has empowered us as one of them recounts in appreciation to Gus for teaching them to fish rather than give fish.

The students are grateful to Gus and his friends who have seen them through and pledged to continue supporting each other in this family that Gus has created called GAM.

‘If we want to teach real peace in this World, we should start by educating children’, thankyou Gus for instilling in us that we love peace-love people, especially after the insurgency which made us to lose all our African/ Acholi values and customs. We pledge to work hard so that the current and future generations may enjoy real peace and prosperity. The students are grateful to Gus, BOSCO Uganda management, the entire community of Pagak and the committee members for the support accorded to them during their time of studies. As I was interacting with students, these were some of the phrases and comments being said with a big smile: “Long live Gus”, “God bless Gus”, “We pledge to pray for Gus and BOSCO Uganda”

Article by Rev. Sr. Betty Grace Atim.

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