Laura Fortin – a native of Montreal – was an International Youth Fellow in 2015-16. She was placed in Uganda for eight months to support Aga Khan Foundation’s education programming in the region, and still lives there today.
Arua, Northern Uganda. Friday, 5 a.m. I wake up to the call to prayer at the nearby mosque, and the sound of heavy rain. My mind starts running wild.
Usually, when it rains in Arua, everything and everybody stops working. Today, I need to be at the office at 7:30 am to meet the hired driver and pick-up primary school pupils, to drive them to a local radio station. With this rain, the whole activity is going to be delayed: The driver is not going to show-up. The pupils are going to wait, or maybe they won’t even be at school when I get there. The station manager will be unhappy. Great, it’s raining.
6:45 a.m. My alarm rings. No longer raining. It is a miracle. I meet my colleague at the office, the driver shows up, and we leave on time. The pupils were ready when we got to their school. Their teachers had prepared them well. The station manager was friendly and the students got to meet famous radio hosts while we waited for the second school to arrive. Then, they got their moment in the spotlight.
To promote environmental awareness in primary schools, I helped organize a competition for 50 schools in Arua district. Six pupils per school – with the help of teachers trained by Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) – wrote and presented original songs, poems, and short plays on environmental conservation.
They were evaluated based on their performances, and on how well they took care of tree seedlings that AKF planted on their school grounds. The pupils from Bongova and Jiako primary school won the singing part of the competition, and got to visit Voice of Life radio station to record their songs.
Sometimes, working in northern Uganda is challenging. Sometimes, things are slow – very slow – but other times, everything falls into place. My day at Voice of Life radio station with the pupils of Bongova and Jiako primary school was one of those days.
The winners were excited to record their songs and poems, and to visit a radio broadcasting studio for the first time. Laban, the station manager, told them that he first visited Voice of Life with his school when he was about their age and started to work there not long after. After hearing that, several pupils told Laban that they wished to become radio journalists later.
The radio station aired the songs and poems during the children’s show the following Saturday and the pupils, in their communities, proudly listened to their voices being shared. Who knows, this low-cost activity I organized for AKF-Uganda might have been the beginning of a career for some of these pupils.
I was wrong, that Friday was a good day, like so many others in Arua.