Ugandan Students, Faculty Celebrate Construction of New School Facilities
Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) service members, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) representative, and local government officials attended a dedication ceremony at St. Theresa Secondary School in Lira, Uganda, February 23, 2009.
The ceremony marked the completion of a $500,000 project funded by CJTF-HOA, providing two new 300-student dormitories, a staff house, new latrines, three water-harvesting tanks, and new solar panels for a computer laboratory.
"It is a great day for CJTF-HOA and the people of Uganda," Marine Colonel Ron Anderson of CJTF-HOA told the crowd of more than 1,000 people. "The lives of thousands of young girls will be positively impacted by their ability to attend school here at St. Theresa."
Students welcomed guests and family members with performances of song and dance, followed by a traditional Ugandan lunch.
The celebration comes on the heels of uncertain times for the school. "We could not imagine how we would come back and resettle in our school, we didn't have enough dormitories for our students. Thanks be to God, we came into contact with (CJTF-HOA)," said Sister Judith Adilo, the school's head teacher.
In October of 2002, regional instability forced the school's students and faculty away from its current location in the village of Alanyi. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel force, at-tacked civilians and attempted to seize control of villages throughout northern Uganda. For more than two years, parents and staff members from the school moved the girls around a 100km area to avoid contact with rebels. They temporarily settled themselves at the Uganda Technical College in Lira.
During the LRA insurgency, the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) used St. Theresa Sec-ondary School as a camp for Ugandans who were been displaced by the conflict. Dormitories and staff quarters filled with displaced persons, UPDF soldiers and aid workers.
"If you came here in 2003 when we were at the height of the insurgency you'd really be shocked because this whole place was fully occupied by internally displaced people. No learning could take place," said Benson Obuaogwal, the local member of parliament for Moroto County in Lira district.
When the fighting subsided in 2005 students and faculty returned to Lira, only to discover their facilities crowded with displaced persons. Displaced themselves, the school's students and fac-ulty temporarily settled at the Uganda Technical College in Lira.
In 2006, Adilo met an official from the U.S. Embassy in Kampala who was visiting Lira to do-nate textbooks.
"She came to share some issues about the books, and I shared with her our plight, the problem we were undergoing," said Adilo. "So she told me that we could get in touch with [CJTF-HOA]."
Adilo contacted U.S. Army Civil Affairs personnel located in Lira and worked with them to plan the school's reconstruction.
By 2007, the school had returned to its original location, but the already aged facilities needed reconstitution because thousands of people took shelter there during the violence.
"The structures that previously existed here were inadequate and very poor. But what the U.S. government has put up here is magnificent. I believe the lives of the students here will be totally changed," said Obuaogwal. "When they provide schools, that means that our students can pick up the pieces of their lives and become useful citizens, and they won't be prone to manipulation, to become rebels for instance." Anderson said the project reflects CJTF-HOA's desire to build security capacity in the region.
"St Theresa Secondary School is an excellent example of how governments, organizations, and communities can work together to strengthen peace. CJTF-HOA is very proud to have partici-pated in this project." said Anderson.