In 2004, Gus Zuehlke visited the community of Pagak in northern Uganda, along with Fr. Joseph Okumu. At the time, Pagak served as a camp during a period of great war and insurgency; Gus witnessed the challenges for the youth, including unreliable communication systems which prevented separated families from uniting, initially leading to the formation of BOSCO-U. However, in addition to BOSCO-U, a new creation occurred – the formation of the GAM (Godfrey Alanya Memorial) Scholarship for Youth. Together with Catechist Godfrey Alanya and Gus Zuehlke, a new endeavor was formed. The scholarship was named in memory of Godfrey Alanya following his death in 2005 and its first batch included seven students. Many of the issues youth faced, such as lack of funds to cover school fees, declining cultural values, domestic abuse, and an overall lack of hope were coupled with the loss of parents, a lack of jobs and economic growth, as well as a waging war and rebel attacks.
As a result, the scholarship was initiated which helped to support fees for some secondary pupils to attend school. Many of these students’ parents were living in Pagak Internally Displaced Camp, captured, and killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The scholarship’s features and objectives include providing disadvantaged students with secondary education scholarships (from S1-S6), empowering youth with vocational training and career skills for success and self-sustainability, rebuilding a culture of self-sustainability and peacebuilding, and also restoring the lack of values and hope within the community as a whole.
On August 26, 2006, when the Ugandan Government and the LRA signed an official truce that moved the LRA to a remote part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the scholarship continued to support students. It has sponsored over 150 students thus far, however, the program is currently at a standstill until a more sustainable plan can be implemented that would allow for the Pagak Community to support school fees internally.
It is often said that “education is the key to success,” which is why it is essential that young students continue their education so as to gain the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience needed to become employed and give back to their communities. As such, it is evident that scholarships such as GAM are important, especially due to little government educational assistance and funding. As such, I met with multiple GAM beneficiaries as well as family members and friends of beneficiaries to discuss how GAM has impacted them, their life, and their communities. Their stories are below:
Beneficiaries and Friends of Beneficiaries Testimonials
GAM Committee Secretary Charles Okot
Charles is the son of GAM co-founder Godfrey Alanya and was also a beneficiary of the GAM scholarship in 2006. He studied at Lacho Seminary and completed ordinary level in 2009, after which he received his teaching certificate in 2011. Today, he assists voluntarily with issues dealing with connecting the village and the GAM Committee to ensure communication and coordination. In addition, he is also a teacher and involved in local government.
GAM Committee Chairperson Morris Odong
Morris is the current chairperson of the GAM Committee and also a beneficiary of the GAM Scholarship. Despite a successful primary examination in 2000, his parents were unable to pay the school fees for attending secondary school. As a result, he was connected with Pagak Chapel Catechist Godfrey Alanya. Godfrey encouraged Morris to seek a school and he then gained admission to St. John Paul II College, where he attended S1 in 2005 and completed S4 in 2008. Following this, he earned his electrical installation certificate and joined an electrical technical service company that financially supported additional training. Today, he works as an electrical engineer, performing everything from wiring to transformer work.
GAM Committee Vice Chairperson Kevin Auma
Kevin was a GAM beneficiary from 2008, where she joined S2, until 2013. During this era, polygamous marriages were prevalent, and there were many children in her family which led to difficulty paying school fees. While school was difficult, this stress was relieved through support from GAM where she graduated secondary school and now works as a nurse at St. Mary’s Medical Center. She is very grateful for the GAM Scholarship as it allowed her to excel through school and now support her family. Financial freedom and relief help to support a more hopeful future and community.
GAM Secretary Martine
Martine was a GAM Scholarship recipient and is currently a primary school teacher for P7 at Awach School in Gulu district. During the war, he joined the seminary, however, rebels attacked one night and he managed to escape abduction. Following the insurgency and rebel attack he sought out a GAM Scholarship and was now able to attend school. After completing S4 he became a teacher and is not only grateful for the GAM Scholarship but also BOSCO-Uganda for access to computer technology and computer training/knowledge which he is able to share with his students. He hopes the GAM program will continue and benefit even more students. He plans to further his educational studies once he has the means to as well.
Achomo Prosovia is originally from Pagak and was a GAM Scholarship beneficiary six years ago where she transferred to a school in Gulu. There, GAM supported her education while her family also supported part of her school fees. Through support from GAM, she completed A-level. After, her passion for media led to writing for Radio Maria and anchoring the radio station for two years. She then earned a certificate in mass communication and now has dreams to earn a degree to support her future and career.
Alex is the chairperson of the Pagak Chapel Council and is also involved in the local Pagak village. He is brothers with Anthony who was a part of the first batch of GAM beneficiaries and also a catechist for Pagak Chapel. Following primary school, he was able to complete secondary school (S4) through support from the GAM scholarship. After, he earned a diploma in ECD (early childhood development).
Marino shared how GAM supported his son throughout his time in a seminary school where he was able to complete a degree in philosophy and will soon begin a program in theology. Hopefully, he will reach the priesthood, which Marino credits to the support from GAM and the grace of God.
Joakon Job Okema
Sylvia shared how grateful she is to have witnessed her son, Joakon, benefit from the GAM scholarship. Following his completion of secondary school he was able to complete a degree in civil engineering and succeed in a competitive world.
Balington is a beneficiary of the GAM Scholarship and his guardian, Richard, spoke of how the freedom of stress from school fees allowed Balington to succeed. After his father was killed in a rebel attack against Pagak Community, he was identified by the committee and studied up till S4, where he then joined a technical institution and studied carpentry. Richard shared how there are many children like Balington still in need of support and is praying for grace from God.
While Martin is not a beneficiary nor the parent/guardian of a beneficiary, he shared how grateful he was for the GAM scholarship for his neighbor Patrick. The GAM Scholarship supported Patric through secondary school and he is now an electrician working in Sudan. In addition, Patrick appreciated the support he received from the GAM Scholarship and Pagak Community, and he is willing to offer his electrical services free of charge to install electricity in the Pagak Chapel to enable the newly-donated piano to operate.
Jimmy shared his thoughts on the program and his support for an expanded or diversified system in which the Scholarship could be made more sustainable through the cultivation of agriculture and, in turn, support even more learners without requiring financial support.
Patrick grew up as an orphan, relying on support from his community to help him continue his education. While he was not a GAM beneficiary, he recognizes how important support from others is and is extremely grateful for the program which supported his community. He thinks the most important step moving forward is to reignite the scholarship and focus on providing guidance and counseling to those in the community, especially students, so hope may be regained.
Lucy is the wife of the late Godfrey Alanya and is exceedingly grateful for the support and assistance from the GAM scholarship. While her children benefited from the program, it also benefited her personally and gave her hope for her children and the children of Pagak. She advises students to not turn back and to look at education as a stepping stone to success in the future. She says that through education students may be able to grow educationally and personally to help support themselves, their families, and their communities.
End of Testimonials
Meeting with the beneficiaries, families, and friends of beneficiaries of the GAM Youth Scholarship was a memorable experience and provided an eye-opening encounter of the Pagak Community’s endurance, persistence, and resilience. With many benefits, it is evident that the program is indispensable. As a result, alumni and supporters of the GAM Scholarship have formed a 9-member committee to develop a sustainable plan to revitalize GAM, while ensuring it remains stable for years to come without financial strains. With a developed constitution and completed preliminary work, the committee hopes it can sustain the scholarship for years to come as a community association. There are many children in need of support such as the GAM Scholarship, however, there is little financial support to afford school fees. As a result, plans and ideas have been proposed to continue the success of GAM while limiting the financial strain on supporters.
One such plan includes procuring a tractor for the community to enhance agricultural production to expand agriculture sales. An open farm for community members to learn about agriculture and farming could support the scholarship through an influx of crop products, augmented by a tractor, and also enable new business prospects. Another idea includes instituting a carpentry workshop in which products could be sold for a profit to support school fees through GAM. This also opens the door to new ventures such as a metalworking/welding and fabrication shop to help support school fees while providing jobs.
In addition to revitalizing the GAM scholarship, committee members and past alumni also expressed concerns regarding future educational support. The Ugandan government recently instituted a new policy that goes into effect in 2030 and requires teachers to hold a degree versus a diploma or certificate. Therefore, past recipients are seeking educational support for degrees, however, the GAM Scholarship is specifically designed for youth so this aspect may not be feasible. In addition, committee members believe the reopening of Pagak City Center is important for children to interact with each other as well as to support enrichment programs in the community.
GAM Scholarship has provided a light in the darkness for a wounded community during a wounded time. With the end of the Lord’s Resistance Army and rebel attacks, the community may now begin and continue to flourish through the power of education and informed minds. Through sustainable educational development, youth may seek education and give back to their community in the future.
Article by Greg Gehring