SAMARITAN: Having experienced the effects of war herself, Kevin Akumu has found a way to help the other affected children by bridging the education gap. To attract and keep the children coming, she provides free meals too.
Being brought up in camps during the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war in northern Uganda, the director of Hope Centre Uganda, Kevin Akumu, 28, faced a lot of challenges in her education on top of sleeping hungry many times.
Today, she realises her experiences were to shape her into the person she is today, someone who is touched by the plight of children undergoing the same challenges she went through during the two decades of LRA.
A graduate with a degree in micro finance, Akumu narrates how the idea for Hope Centre Uganda started. One morning in 2014, when she was walking to her work place, she met a toddler at her neighbourhood picking a maize cob from a dustbin at a time his mates were in class.
When she talked to him, she discovered the child had slept hungry and at seven years old had never attended school. Her first instinct was to return home and feed the child, which she did.
Akumu had taken a photo of the boy picking the maize cob from the dustbin and posted it on Facebook, only expecting some comments from friends. Little did she know that the picture would concern friends from the US enough to make them reach out to her and offer her support to solve the problem in her community.
“When my friends decided to give a helping hand, I did some follow up on this child and I found he was an orphan under the care of his elderly grandmother. In many cases, they would sleep hungry,” recounts Akumu.
Akumu started by identifying children who are of school going age that were unable to afford school. She found 70 of them in the community and she went ahead to register an organisation, Hope Centre Uganda as a community based organisation (CBO) in 2015.
She rented two classrooms for upper and lower levels in Kasubi Central Primary School Gulu municipality. Next, she recruited some staff to offer the children lessons free of charge, and she provided them meals and the required meals and scholastic materials. “The number has now increased to 100. I found out that all these children are born as result of their parents being war victims of rape, and most of them have died of AIDS leaving them under the care of the relatives who can usually only accommodation but not education,” she explains. “We were targeting children aged between four and 12 but we did not chase away the older ones either.”
Her major challenge is that the guardians and parents have high expectations. They think now their children are sources of income to the family. “In many cases, the parents come to ask for money from me thinking that the ‘Whites’ send money and other items for their children and I just keep it,” she expressed.
Some children also come at meal times to target the lunch. This makes planning and budgeting challenging for her.
Even though she operates the organisation within a limited budget, Akumu says she has bigger dreams for these children. They have embarked on teaching the children over the weekends in the afternoon so as not to inconvenience the school programmes.
“We also squeeze in three lessons a week during holidays, but still leave them enough time to help their guardians out. We also don’t want them to get bored with academics and drop out, so we skip days and only teach for two hours,” she explained.
To encourage them to always appear for lessons, the organisation provides them meals even when they only attend afternoon lessons. They use an international curriculum to teach the children and promotion is assessed by their performances on the tests.
Akumu’s aim is to make the children computer literate, teach them languages such as English, French, Spanish and Kiswahil. She hopes some children can make it to ordinary primary schools and others vocational training centres where she can continue to support them.
In the meantime, she is working on building a home where all the children can unite as a family. For this, she has already acquired a large piece of land in Kasubi central, Bardege division, Gulu municipality. She realises that the organisation’s staff and other needs will grow so she is reaching out for more partners.
Kurusum Ayet in upper level, says she is eager to learn all the languages that they want to introduce to them so that she teaches other people.
Jimmy Ojok in lower class says he is so excited about the meals they give them. That alone cannot make him miss attending lessons.
Gloria Faith Atim in middle class says she wants to be teacher, and she will continue coming until she becomes a teacher.