When I was 10 years old, I came to Uganda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo with my older sister because of violence. My younger sister and my nephew, who was my age and like a brother to me, came too. It was 1997. My father had died, and my mother stayed behind.
We came to stay with my sister’s husband, who was a Ugandan soldier. For like six months, we were just moving from one army barracks to another.
Then an older woman offered to take care of us so we could go to school. My sister followed her husband and left us with that Good Samaritan, who treated us very well. She is my Ugandan mother.
My sister’s husband was killed on the battlefield in 2000. That’s when we became real orphans because now there was no one to support us. My sister said, “I cannot take care of you anymore or provide for you.”
My nephew and I went to live with an older brother who was in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in western Uganda. My younger sister got married.
The reunion was very happy. I finished primary school there. I got the top score on the test to enter secondary school, but I could not afford the school fees.
We are the biggest resource we have. If we collect ourselves and do some things for
ourselves using the available resources, we can do so much with so little.”
I began selling samosas and chapatis along the road in the town of Hoima. I got paid 1,000 shillings (about 25 cents) a day, enough to feed myself. I lived like that for six months until in August 2002, somebody asked me, “Are you now going back to school?”
I said, “No, there is no money. It costs 10,000 shillings ($2.65).”
So he said, “I’m going to pay your fees, but first work and save money to get a uniform and books.”
I stopped buying prepared meals and only ate porridge and cassava. In one month, I saved 16,000 shillings. If I had known I could save 16,000 in one month, I would have gone to school before.
It was time for the third term of the school year to start. I was scared. I studied what I missed from the first two terms by borrowing my neighbors’ books at night. I copied their notes and revised them. Fortunately, I was able to pass the grade.
When I finished secondary school, I graduated among the best students in the district. But because I was a refugee, I could not apply for the government university.
In 2008, I came back here to Kyangwali. I was teaching physics and mathematics in secondary school. By then I was already involved with a group of young people who wanted to improve life at the camp.
The camp had existed for 10 years, and the support from relief agencies wasn’t enough to sustain people or develop those who lived there. So this group said, Let us mobilize the community to see this place like home and start planning for the future instead of waiting to return to our home countries.
And that was the start of a new “plan for tomorrow,” which became the MCC partner Planning for Tomorrow Youth Organisation (P4T).
For example, when there was a family who couldn’t build a shelter or erect a latrine, we came together and mobilized other members of the community to go to the bush and get materials for building.
We did this because it just felt like we needed to help ourselves. We are the biggest
resource we have. If we collect ourselves and do some things for ourselves using the available resources, we can do so much with so little.
I no longer look at personal challenges, though I also have them. But every time I’m thinking of how I can push these programs and people to work. Because whatever I’m doing here can impact many lives, and it also impacts my life."
I applied for a scholarship for refugees and was able to study at Makerere University, where I earned a degree in statistics.
While I was there, I could access the computer to write the plan for P4T. And finally in 2012, we organized ourselves, wrote a constitution. And in 2013, we managed to register as a community-based organization.
In 2015, some parents who were already doing some voluntary work with P4T said, “Can we start a school, so that our children get access to quality education?” We embraced the idea. In May 2015, we had 26 learners in one board room.
When we saw how smoothly it went, in December we started planning for a bigger school. We started building a structure. When we had poles and reeds for the roof in place, the enrollment went to 186. Wow, the growth was so big. And we just had to find a way of managing it.
Today, we are a Ugandan nonprofit and have three levels of preschool, plus grades 1 through 7, for 300 children. MCC supports early childhood development for ages 3 to 8. We focus on three areas: quality teaching, safety of learners and psychosocial support. We help parents who have experienced violence and trauma learn to create a safe environment for their children.
I no longer look at personal challenges, though I also have them. But every time I’m thinking of how I can push these programs and people to work. Because whatever I’m doing here can impact many lives, and it also impacts my life.
Daniel Ameny is executive director of MCC partner Planning for Tomorrow Youth Organisation (P4T), which provides early childhood education for refugees in western Uganda. Listen to more of Daniel's story on Relief, Development and Podcast.