When it came to education, girls were viewed as would-be prostitutes and lazy, – Retired teacher also Nile Award medalist Ms Labeka Auma Okwong talks to Acholi Times reporter Cissy Makumbi.
Seated on her chair with her supporting crunchers besides her, Labeka Auma Okwong welcomes me with a smile and utters “I hope you’re the lady who contacted me this morning,” as she introduces herself.
Ms Okwong was one of the most educated girls of her time, her luck came when she had gone to Koch-Goma Sub County now in Nwoya district to visit her father who was a catechist there.
“Mama Cave Brown Cave” a missionary from England spotted Ms Okwong and asked her parents’ permission to educate her, the idea which her parents received with mixed feelings arguing that their child was still young to go to a boarding school.
However two weeks later they accepted and that was the genesis of her education in her life.
Her foundation in achieving knowledge was built at Gulu Primary School where she studied for six years, and after that she joined junior school and due to the lack of female teachers in Acholi sub region - then called Acholi district; she joined Gulu Primary Teachers college for three years where she got a certificate and was posted to Boroboro vernacular teacher’s college where she was responsible for teaching language.
After teaching for three years, she got married, and by that time becoming pregnant or getting married, meant that you would fore go teaching, so she left the vocation for a while but was however recalled after the government revised the policy.
“It was the government policy that when you opt to get married that is the end of teaching and if you have left teaching or going without teaching for four years, you would not have your pension paid” she said.
In 1963 she got a scholarship to Northern Ireland where she received more training in teachings skills at Stranminis Belfast College which later helped her to become the first female assistant inspector of schools in Acholi district from 1968-1970 and later in 1976 become the inspector of schools in the Northern Province.
Ms Okwong was born in 1931 and the first born among nine children with only one boy in the family. She was born to Rev Canon Yayeri Ojok and Ms Kezia Ojok of Patiko Sub County in Gulu district.
She says that she was born with the help of the elders in the community as her mother could not trek for over 2o kilometers to reach Gulu regional referral hospital as there was even no transport.
“Had it not been Mama Cave Brown Cave who helped me to get education, parents by that time thought that educating girls was making her lazy and promoting prostitution in the community,” she said.
“Girls were only taught how to read and little writing and were often prepared for marriage so that they can gain respect in the husbands home, whilst their brothers used the dowry received for their marriages,” she added.
She noted that her education was an eye opener to her father who also went ahead to plead to other parents to send their girls for education which later also resulted in all her sisters following in her footsteps.
“Am glad that girl child education was taken up seriously and to date there are many girls who have achieved in live, though there are some girls who are still affected with the cultural norms and traditions especially those married off at the tender young age ,” she said.
Ms Okwong is among the 24 people who were awarded medals by President Museveni during the Labour Day celebrations that were held in Gulu early this month in recognition for her efforts in the field of productivity, research and cultural enterprise.
What she says about today’s Education
Ms Okwong says that education has dropped due to limited funds allocated to the education sector unlike in the past where structures and resources were in place and the task of the teacher was simply to teach and ensure that standard were maintained across Uganda.
“Then pupils acquired knowledge to gain from the future, they become responsible citizens, unlike now days where they study to pass exams,” she said.
During the recent graduation at Gulu University out of the over 1,000 students who graduated, there were only 429 girls which still implies that girl child education is still limping in the north.
The Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Nyeko Pen- Mogi noted that the biting poverty in the region and early marriages still affects girl child education.
“An educated girl brings more dowry to the parents compared to the one who is not educated,” he said.
Position held before retiring in 1985
- From 1968-1970 assistant inspectors of schools in Acholi, form 1970-1974 inspector and from1974-1976 inspector Northern Province.
- 1982-1984 appointed Senior Inspector of Schools Mid-Western and also in the same year she was appointed on the Management committee board of Makerere University.
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