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Rewriting the story of young people in Northern Uganda

The horrors and atrocities that took place in Northern Uganda between 1986 and 2009 are difficult to fathom. Children were abducted, some forced to even kill their own parents, drink blood, and eat flesh. Girls were taken captive as sex slaves, millions of people were displaced, and more than a hundred thousand people lost their lives. It is hard to comprehend what this does to a community, and the generations that came after. Surely only God can bring healing to a community like this. Through Fields of Life, we have seen hope rise from the ashes, and on Friday 26th April I had the opportunity to witness some of what God has been doing through Fields of Life over the last decade. I attended the graduation of the 1st cohort of students at the Archbishop Janan Luwum Vocational Training Institute (AJLVTI), constructed by Fields of Life, and the occasion will stay in my memory forever.  

We witnessed 439 young people graduate with skills in automotive mechanics, fashion and design, building construction, welding and metal fabrication, cosmetology and beautification, hotel and institutional catering, and agriculture. It was incredible to meet these young people who were filled with hope about their futures. What I loved about it most was how there was no talk about their past… I’ve read their stories, about how many have been abused, how many have been orphaned, how many have struggled through extreme poverty… but instead of focusing on the past, this event was about their future, which was now full of hope! These young people were smartly dressed, hair done, smiling with their proud family members and teachers.  

78 of these students were the 1st cohort to graduate with National Certificates, an in depth, 2-year course, which will change the trajectory of their lives. Out of these, 25 received 1st Class Certificates, the highest grade someone can achieve. Each of these students received a toolkit upon graduation to thank them for their hard work and allow them the opportunity to go on and use their skills for their futures. 

As I walked around the campus, I congratulated dozens of young people. Everyone I met said that the time at this college was transformational for them. Not just in terms of the skills that they developed, but the friendships they have made, the devotional times together, and the holistic environment they had been embedded in, teaching them Christian values, entrepreneurship, leadership, agriculture, and mental health and wellbeing. I couldn’t help feeling that these young people were being released to change their communities and nation.  Bishop Godfrey Loum of the Diocese of Northern Uganda put it this way: 

“We believe (this institution) will rewrite and change the story of many young people in this region.” 

Fields of Life has been investing deeply in the region of Northern Uganda for some time, building 4 schools, 3 nurseries, and a vocational college, as well as many quality education interventions, well drilling, and so much more. It is both humbling and sobering to play a small part in the healing process of this region and see young people who will rise up and build a better future. 

When I first visited the Archbishop Janan Luwum Vocational Training Institute (AJLVTI) in 2019, it was still a dream and only a construction site. Fields of Life had been gifted land from the Church of Uganda and granted more than $2millon in donations to construct a first-class vocational institute, which would upskill thousands of young people of this region and give them tangible and real hope. At the time, it was a high-risk project. Injecting this much money into such a poverty-stricken region would take determination, focus, and grit. We have so often heard the risks of constructing “white elephants” across Africa; empty buildings, constructed by well-meaning charities who hadn’t considered the sustainability of what they were trying to achieve.  

When the vocational institute construction was finally complete, the reality set in that the project was only beginning. We needed a board of governors, staff, financial due diligence, safeguarding, budgets, curriculum, sustainability pans, marketing, recruitment of students, and so much more. There were many challenges we faced, and at times we felt it was perhaps too difficult, relationships too strained, or sustainability too ambitious. One of the worst points was during the Covid-19 pandemic, when we were finished the construction but were unable to open. All travel had been halted through lockdown, making relationships more strained with our partners, and schools and colleges were forced to close for almost 2 years. Trying to start a vocational institution would be difficult in normal times, but in this environment, it felt almost impossible. Yet, thanks to the tireless work of many people, not only has the college opened, but it is a thriving institution upskilling hundreds of young people, and providing education, values, and life-skills. 

To have our first graduation at the AJLVTI was a special moment for everyone who has been involved, from vision to execution, over the last 5-10 years. I am confident it will be the first of many graduations, and I am excited by the prospect of the thousands of young people who will walk through this campus and have their lives transformed. 

Thank you to everyone who has played a part in this project, from those who sponsor students to study and provided the infrastructure, to the staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to make this dream possible. To God be all the Glory.