My name is George Odoch. I am the lead facilitator for the mentorship research project that is currently being implemented by BOSCO Uganda. My intention of writing the article is to tell the stories of two courageous women called Christine Ali and Grace Atto who showed remarkable courage and resilience to complete six weeks of entrepreneurship essentials training despite the hardships they were facing.
BOSCO Uganda is currently implementing a mentorship research project that aims at studying the relationship between different forms of mentorship and business outcomes in a field experiment in Gulu, Uganda. Among other objectives, the project aimed at training 400 local businessmen in entrepreneurship essentials (EE), a course that helps to equip learners with basic skills in business and entrepreneurship.
Christine and Grace were both chosen to participate in the training program but could not enroll on time. On the eve of the training, Christine got injured in a gun battle between policemen and armed gunmen and was hospitalized for several weeks, causing her to join the program in fourth week. Grace was several months pregnant when she joined and her delivery date was close. Both remarkably managed to complete the program. Below we tell their stories.
The Story of Christine Ali
It was on Thursday 9th June, 2016 that Samuel Komakech a facilitator for the EE curriculum made a telephone call to invite Christine Ali to participate in the training program. Christine did not make it on Saturday 11th June 2016 as had been scheduled. She however later called that very Saturday and promised to come on Monday, 13th June 2016.
Come Monday however, Christine was nowhere to be seen. While we were carrying out a routine follow-up, Samuel informed us that Christine was hospitalized due to an injury she sustained from a stray bullet as a result of a gunfire exchange between policemen and unknown gunmen on Sunday 12th June 2016. We therefore concluded that Christine would not be able to enroll for the training. We were wrong.
Despite her injury, Christine turned up in the fourth week and asked if she could still enroll for the program. When I was informed by Samuel of her arrival, I could not believe it. I got up immediately and followed Samuel to meet her. All the facilitators somehow knew Christine without ever seeing her before. She was immediately given orientation and she started classes.
Since she had the ability to read English, she endeavored to do most of the reading and learning on her own, and would occasionally seek guidance from the facilitators. With her zeal and what had happened to her, all the facilitators felt obliged to help her. When asked about what was propelling her, all she said was that “every opportunity for learning should not be missed”.
Christine completed the course on time and handed in her business activity manual. With a bullet injury, three weeks late, lost business time and a course that has no monetary benefits attached, it really required will power, zeal and personal motivation for one to undertake the course from beginning to the end. We will in the future meet with Christine to have an in-depth discussion of how her business is performing.
The Story of Grace Atto
Grace Atto is a fish vendor who reported for the training on14th June 2016, at about 6:45pm, which was the second day of the training program. Augustine Opoka (facilitator) was teaching a class while the rest of us were either ushering in, recording attendance or co-facilitating. I personally welcomed her saying in Acholi, “apwoyo bino” (welcome). Her response “abino niya ka kwan do” (I have also come to study) resulted in Diana Aloyo (facilitator) and I struggling to keep our professional composure lest we laughed out rightly because she said it in a sarcastic tone.
Grace was a tall and well-built Acholi lady and so it was not very easy to notice that she was several months preganant and about to deliver. Since she was enrolling for classes late I asked if she was ready to take catch up before she could join the others.
She immediately said that would delay her and emphasized that she was ready to join the class and find her level as the classes went on. I asked if she had any computer skills but her response was “a nongo ki kwene kara” literally meaning “and where did you expect me to get it from!”
I showed her what she needed to do with a computer and to my amusement it took her a very short while to get acquainted with it and from then on she was comfortable. The lesson I learnt from this was to never ever take a learner for granted. It was not long before Grace caught up with others who were ahead of her. She kept the class alive with her assertive questions and contributions.
On 20th July 2016, the final day of her class, as I was supporting her to finalize her business plan activity manual, she told me “lapwony an dong pe ngene ka a dwogo ba!” (Teacher, I am not sure whether I will really come back). I asked her why and she told me she felt tired. We finalized the business plan activity manual and handed it in.
On the day of the certificate award ceremony I had forgotten all about Grace until I heard her name being read out. Grace was not present but she had sent a young man to pick her certificate. This young man later told us that Grace could not attend because she had delivered a baby on Thursday (the eve of the certificate award ceremony), and exactly one week after completing her course. All facilitators were happy for Grace because it took courage and will power for her to juggle between business, learning (coming for 78% of her lessons) and her pregnancy.
The writer is the Lead Facilitator of the Mentorship Research Project, BOSCO-Uganda