From March to July 2016, BOSCO Uganda, through its mentorship research project trained more than 150 Gulu-based local businessmen in Entrepreneurship Essentials (EE), using a six topic, six week computer-based training program. In this blog article, written by Aloyo Diana who is a facilitator of the EE course, we share the experiences of two elderly women, Elizabeth and Grace, who endured to complete the training program despite their advanced age and other challenges. Elizabeth was 85 years old, could not read and write, and had to rely on her granddaughter to complete her assignments for her. Grace had to balance between her business and a poor health condition attained during the conflict in northern Uganda.
Elizabeth Lanyom was among the many students who enrolled for the Entrepreneurship Essentials (EE) training programme. Elizabeth sells smoked fish in Gulu Main Market. She is about 85 years old. She was the oldest student to enroll in her class.
Despite her advanced age, Elizabeth was a very determined student and was always punctual for class irrespective of the weather. She was also witty and fun to work with. Whenever she was asked to make a contribution during the discussions in class, she would sarcastically remark in Acholi ‘wanigi wangeyo?’ literally meaning ‘what do we old people know?’ Despite her remarks she would still go ahead to contribute to the discussion as best as she could.
I enjoyed the company of Elizabeth because of her determination to learn and fit in with the younger generation. Despite never having used a computer in her life, she was able to learn the basics of navigating through the course modules which were displayed on computer monitors. Because Elizabeth could not read and write, she relied on one of her granddaughters to help her in completing her business plan template, a requirement for all participants for graduation. She repeatedly told her granddaughter, “ka iweko apoto” meaning ‘if you make me fail’.
Elizabeth diligently attended the course for six weeks. Her attendance rate was above 80%, which was better than many of the learners who were younger than her. Seeing the joy in her face on graduation day, I almost shed tears of joy. I can’t imagine how she was filled with joy on receiving her certificate of completion. Her determination made me reflect on the adage: ‘age is just a number’.
Grace Lamunu is another elderly student who worked hard to complete the course despite her age and health condition. Grace is a victim of the war between the Lords Resistant Army (LRA) and the Government which lasted for almost 20 years in northern Uganda. Grace sells vegetables at Gulu Main Market. She lives in a nearby village called Pece.
Grace became a victim of the conflict when she was abducted by LRA rebels and stayed in captivity for many years. While in captivity, Grace was caught in a crossfire between the LRA and Government soldiers and sustained a bullet injury. She recovered, but the bullet remained lodged in her body and has never been removed since. This injury has affected her health, characterized by symptoms such as frequent headaches that prevent her from working sometimes. In one of my interactions with her, Grace inquired if BOSCO Uganda could help her to remove the bullet from her body. I told her it was not possible, but I promised to connect her with other organizations that handle cases such as hers. Shortly after, I heard an announcement over the radio that an organization called World Vision was offering medical assistance for victims like Grace. I informed Grace about this.
While she was elated by the news, she found it challenging to take time off her business since her whole family depended on it for a living. She also expressed difficulty in raising money to go to Kampala for treatment. She still hopes to get medical care in future so that she can live a normal life.
As a result of her medical condition and her role as the family breadwinner, Grace would sometimes miss classes. Despite this, Grace managed to complete the six weeks training. According to Grace, the training has been beneficial in terms of boosting her self-confidence. She said that prior to the training she had lost confidence in herself as a result of her abduction experience and her medical condition. This had affected her business in terms of her ability to negotiate and market her products. Grace claims that as a result of the training, she gained more confidence to interact freely with her classmates, fellow vendors and customers, a factor which has improved her business.
Written by Aloyo Diana, a facilitator of the Entrepreneurship Essentials training.