Nelson dares to dream

Monday 16 November 2015

Twenty-year-old Nelson Okello has a dream. This year, he wants to start constructing a brick house roofed with iron sheets. But how can that be possible, considering that his family has always lived in grass thatched huts.

“I will be the first to have a house made of bricks in my family, and mine will be the first house to be roofed with iron sheets in the whole village,” he proudly says.

A few years ago, Okello would not have harboured such dreams or ideas. He had been unable to proceed to secondary school due to his father’s inability to pay his school fees. With 32 children to take care of, there were more pressing daily needs for Okello’s father than education.

It was just a stroke of luck, or even ill-luck, that made it possible for Okello to complete primary education. His family had been displaced from their home in Nwoya district by the marauding Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels that were fighting the Uganda government, and for close to five years stayed in a displaced people’s camp. It was there that Okello managed to get elementary education – in a public school.

Okello’s fortunes changed when, on returning home, he was selected by a local organization working with Save the Children to undertake vocational skills training at a local artisan’s workshop. At Ojok Sunday Service Limited young men have the opportunity to learn how to repair motorcycles, getting skills that will enable them to eke a living. Since the motorcycle is one of the commonly used forms of transport in the area, the demand for mechanics is high.  

“Out of the four young men that were brought here to learn, it is only Okello who completed the course,” says Sunday Ojok, the proprietor of the workshop.

It comes as no surprise that Okello managed to complete the course. Driven by a desire to transform his life and that of his family, Okello would be on the road by 5:00am everyday, walking to attend classes at Sunday Ojok’s. Although the six-kilometre journey to the workshop took him almost two hours, never was he tempted to drop out of the course.

His efforts paid off, and after three months, he completed the course and began earning his own money repairing motorcycles at Sunday Ojok’s workshop.

“That was the turning point in my life,” Okello asserts with a grin. “The first thing I bought with my money was a mattress. I had been sleeping on a papyrus mat, and the day I got the mattress I slept like a baby. I was very happy.”

Earning an average of UGX400,000 (about USD114) during a good month, Okello has not only been able  to buy a mattress but also a motorcycle, bicycle, solar panel, radio and television set. He has six goats that he hopes will eventually multiply. The motorcycle is a source of income since he uses it to transport people, while villagers charge their mobile phones for a small fee using his solar panel.

“I do not have a bank account, but I don’t waste my money. I save it on my mother’s phone in the form of Mobile Money. That way I am not tempted to withdraw and waste it,” Okello explains. Mobile Money is a system through which one is able to transfer money to another person using a mobile phone. It is also a way of storing money, just like a bank account.  

It is clear that not only did Okello gain mechanical skills from Sunday Ojok Service Limited, but also business acumen. He says he now has negotiation skills, as well as customer care and record-keeping skills, which will be useful in future.

“I encourage these young people to work hard. When they work they are able to understand how hard it is to make money and therefore spend it wisely,” attests Ojok, the artisan. He adds that he has noted that Okello is a hardworking young man with a bright future.

Okello knows that his life will be different from that of his father, who, along with other people in the village, now have respect for the young man.

“My life is moving in the right direction and I am achieving what I have always wanted to achieve. I thank Save the Children for transforming my life. If I had not joined this vocational skills course, I would not be hopeful about my future,” Okello says, beaming with confidence.

Through the Youth Initiative for Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods Development project, YIELD, Save the Children has transformed the lives of numerous vulnerable youth in Northern Uganda. Just like Okello, young men and women who did not have a speck of hope are now able to earn a living, take care of their immediate and extended family, and nurture hopes and dreams that were once unimaginable.

Now an employee, Okello looks forward to becoming a prosperous businessman. “Within the coming five years I would like to start and manage my own workshop,” he says. With the right knowledge and skills, the sky can only be the limit, no matter your background.