Uganda – A Ugandan organization is offering an education, vocational skills and sanctuary to former child soldiers, orphans and other young victims of the civil war in northern Uganda, including youth living in abject poverty.
Hope North is an accredited secondary and vocational school founded in 1998 by Ugandan dance and theater artist Okello Sam, who is also a former child soldier.
The boarding school sits on 40 acres, accommodates 300 students and includes an international arts center and a working farm. Hope North reports it has helped thousands of youth since it was founded.
Since 1987, the people of northern Uganda have faced violence at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA have kidnapped tens of thousands of children and transformed them into soldiers. According to Hope North, there are 1.6 million refugees who have been displaced because of the war.
The World Bank reports that northern Uganda still has high rates of poverty although the country exceeded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of cutting poverty in half by 2015.
Hope North works to address this poverty. A key vocational field the school focuses on is agriculture. According to Hope North, more than 80 percent of Uganda’s population works in and relies on subsistence agriculture.
The students also learn ICT skills. Ericsson, a communications technology and service provider, offers computers, mobile phones and basic ICT (as well as social media training and tools) with connectivity and the necessary equipment.
Part of the mission of the school is to nourish the culture of the Acholi people, which all Hope North students share. The school focuses on Acholi dance and music and is located in Masindi, an area where the Acholi language is spoken. This location also provides protection from violence.
The short documentary, The Thing that Happened, tells the story of Hope North. The award-winning documentary by director Andrew Walton features an original score co-authored by Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.
The school has earned the support of celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Mary-Louise Parker.
Actor Forest Whitaker also supports the school. Whitaker is UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation and received an Academy Award in 2007 for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the film, The Last King of Scotland.
In 2012, he founded the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), which offers youth peacekeeping programs to benefit vulnerable communities around the world. WPDI implemented a program to help the youth at Hope North become leaders in reconciliation and violence prevention.
Hope North offers various ways for people to donate to the school and enrich the future potential of its students. The school reports it takes $1,500 to educate one of its students for a year.
To learn more about Hope North or to donate, visit www.hopenorth.org.
– Kate Miller