Mr Obonyo Alex of The Kalongo Times sat down for an interview with Dr Okot Anjelo, the Director Safe Haven Academy Kalongo. He spoke to him about why he had chosen Education as a business in this part of the country, and how it was impacting his life and contributing to the socio-economic growth and development of Kalongo Town council and the local population.
Mr Obonyo Alex kicked off by asking him to introduce himself and his school.
Dr Okot Anjelo Okotowic introduction
Thankyou Mr. Obonyo for coming to talk to us. I am privileged to host “The Kalongo Times “and share my insights about my business that focuses on education for the youth by holistically empowering them with knowledge and skills.
I am Dr. Anjelo Okot (PhD), CFA. I Currently work for the Central Bank of Uganda in managing foreign exchange reserves.
I was born and raised in Omiya Pacwa Sub-County Agago District – Northern Uganda, I finished my primary from Omiya Pacwa Primary School. Due to the prolonged war and conflicts emanating from cattle rustling by the hostile neighbouring Karamoja, I repeated Primary Seven P.7 five times despite my excellent academic performance. I persisted repeating P.7 with the hope that somehow money would be available I would continue with my dreams to study up to the highest level possible. At one point I contemplated joining technical training Institute to study and become a Mason, but a friend of mine I studied and sat with earlier in Primary seven categorically rejected the idea, he told me that he intends to enroll in a teacher training school as soon as he gets his first job , he would dedicate money to ensure that I study. This was the biggest source of inspiration that made me to linger in Primary seven for all these five years. I am who I am thanks to his persistence.
I later joined secondary school in Kalongo, and I paid my school fee using revenue generated from agricultural activities up to senior three.
After the war intensified, most schools in Kalongo collapsed and I lost hope of further studies. Luckily, I obtained scholarship from World Vision due to my good academic performance and discipline that enabled me to finish S.4 from Namokora Senior Secondary School in Kitgum District where I still emerged best student in the District.
I later joined A’level in Layibi Collage in Gulu Distict, now Gulu City with continued support from World Vision. I again emerged the best performing stdent in Gulu District
I joined Makerere University under National Merit Scholarship where I graduated with a first-class degree in bachelor of commerce (BCOM) and the second best in my class.
After completion of my degree, I facilitated a number of community development projects within Agago and taught in various secondary schools.
I taught in Gulu University for a short period before joining the Central Bank in 2012.
I was given a scholarship opportunity by the Central Bank under World Bank sponsorship to pursue a professional course in Finance – Charted Financial Analyst (CFA) which I completed the examinations from South Africa.
I latter obtained World Bank/Joint Japan Scholarship to pursue MSc. Economics and Finance from the University of Leeds, UK
Due to my outstanding performance, the University of LEEDS offered me a scholarship to purse a PhD in Economics which I completed in January 2021 and graduated in June 2021.
What is the type of business you are engaged in and when did you start this business?
I opted to start a business in Education which is the route through which knowledge and skills are passed to the young people, who eventually become the backbone of production and bringing in the much-needed socio-economic empowerment of our people.
SAFE HAVEN Academy located at the foot of Kalongo Mountain about 2kms to the Northwestern side of Kalongo Town Council, along Kalongo-Kitgum road was established in 2021. It’s a private community-based secondary school. It’s both a day and boarding school which currently runs S.1 and S.2 classes and shall progressively expand to the next class every year.
Why the name SAFE HAVEN? What is in the choice of name?
The safest place that provides conducive environment and preserves highest holistic quality education even in crisis times. Safe Haven meaning in terms of currency and investment is illustered with the us dollars.
Why this business and what has inspired you into this line of business?
My educational background played a major role in the establishment of this school.
Seeing that I have now completed my studies after a long struggle which many children in our community are still facing; a key question in my heart has been, what is the best way I can contribute to the community to help the vulnerable children get what I missed in the earlier stage of my education, but rather get the similar kind of opportunity I received in the latter stages in quest of a good education.
Many children in the community did not get this kind of opportunity and they are struggling now. Yet, we have many who are talented, brilliant and can go far if provided with the opportunity.
Education system is still critically poor due to the prolonged war, community negligence, little effort by government and other development agencies.
I have been discussing with the community on the best ways of helping our children get quality education – similar to the kind of educational opportunity I have.
We tried some strategies. E.g working with existing schools, but we realise there are inherent weaknesses.
We finally noted that it’s important to establish a school that will act as a model institution that can solve the current persistent challenges.
What are the Key Objectives/Goals of SAFE HAVEN ACADEMY?
The key objectives are two;
- Highest quality education at accessible cost to the vulnerable children which has suffered the impact of war.
- Raising discipline and God fearing children to shape young generation who will help in transforming this community
Why education not any other project?
With the war and resulting complex problems (acute poverty, illiteracy, diseases, social problems) education is a proven permanent solution to all these kinds of challenges. It tackles poverty, diseases etc.
With the current climatic crisis, we need to equip young generation through education to address these challenges.
Having yourself struggle financially to study, and the poverty still prevailing among your people, what mechanisms do you have in place for destitute students with zeal for education?
We have few scholarships available through friends I work with as well as other benefactors, and also, some students request to remain at school and work during the holidays and in this way they earn some money that shall then be channeled to cater for their school fees and other requirements. There is still a lot of work in progress to set up the school with all the necessary facilities.
Besides the business growth, how has it impacted on your life and the lives of others in the community?
- It has provided a platform to talk to both students and parents to help provide carrier guidance, information on educational opportunities, productivity, finances.
- We have so far seen discipline and positive attitude towards education and economic activities. Our students have been able to talk to pupils in other schools. Personally, I have been able to move to other schools to offer motivational talks to parents
- At least, a few vulnerable children have started gaining access to quality education.
- Economic activities within the areas- we buy food stuff from within the community and encourage them to increase their activities.
- Employment opportunity to a few from the local community
- Talent is shaping up e.g in football. We compete with other schools within Kalongo- St. Charles Lwanga’s Senior Secondary School, St. Peter Primary School and others.
How do you manage governance and administration in the school? Do you have adequate teaching staff and how easy is it attract them?
We have in place a remarkable board that does its oversight roles effectively.
We also have a tremendous and committed teaching staff- twelve (12) teachers able to cover all subjects although some are part timing. In addition, we also have a sizeable number the support staff drawn from among the population who are doing a good job. Parents are also positive about the school; the goodwill from the community is very important for the success of our aspirations and this gives us hope to continue moving forward.
As is common with most businesses there are the up and down side, Are there any challenges you have experienced in the course of running the Academy?
- Being a new school, some facilities are still lacking which we are working towards. This includes Science Lab, Computer lab, dormitories. We have temporary solutions for now. E.g science equipment for demonstration are provided, a few computers for demonstration. Empty Classrooms are being used for dormitories.
- New curriculums – learning materials are still few to support sound research
- Being a poor community, payments of fees from parents are not reliable especially in period of prolonged drought.
- Water and power are not yet reliable- Solar system and national water being relied on for now.
- Some teachers have been on part time – some unreliable cases have been reported
- With the distance and teachers not residing within the school, enforcing the desired reading culture has been a big challenge
- Being both day and boarding school, gap in discipline and reading culture is difficult to implement
You alluded to the school as a model institution established as a mechanism to solve the current persistent challenges by providing holistic education; In the last one year of your existence, what achievements have you registered so far?
Though the school has been in existence for only one year, we have so far registered some important achievements in both academic and co-curricular activities. These include:
- Sport: Our students represented Agago District at Regional Level in football competition organised by Coca-Cola and the performance was amazing. We also managed to send two students at national level in Athletics competition.
- Discipline and academic improvement. We have seen significant improvement in the performance of our students, especially in key subjects (e.g English, maths) as well as in confidence and public communication.
- Unity shaping us among parents and teachers, working together towards shaping the students and changing the community.
- We have so far established good relationships with other good schools in central region that help to mentor our teachers.
- We have integrated trauma base training in our school system and so far, our teachers have started the training, we shall soon introduce bible studies and other such initiatives aimed at providing the holistic approach in educating our children.
- We have made significant progress with classroom Construction and building teachers houses to help enforce discipline.
- Football pitch is now in place
Business being a competitive undertaking, how do fair in such an environment where the governments schools exist under Universal Secondary Education (USE) which is purportedly to be free or at most very little payment is demanded from the student?
- Our goal is key – Highest quality, discipline and committed teachers separate us from the rest of the schools. This is making us registering big enrolment
- We are a social entrepreneur with objective of social impact, but sustainability is key. We are not after profit. Our fee is affordable fee for both boarding and day scholars.
- We also try to look for some funding sources e.g some support from colleagues at BOU as Bursary to a few talented but vulnerable children
We also have a few bursaries for those with ability to provide some sort of labour force within the school.
Where do you see the academy in the next short, mid-term to long term?
Short-term – Next 1-2 years
- Adding one more class- s.3
- Painting will be completed soon
- Working on the Football pitch and levelling the school compound generally.
- Working on equipping the schools with most facilities, dormitories, lab facilities, computers
- Teachers’ houses are being constructed to allow them stay within the help in enforcing reading culture
- Financial literacy training for students and teachers from this year.
- Fencing the school
- Water and power – drilling borehole and more solar system. We are also working towards connecting electricity
- Offering foundational courses to weak students from primary.
Medium-term – Next 3-6 years
- Establishment of school farm for sustainability, feeding and practical skills
- Establishing more facilities (lab, examination halls, etc)
- Opening up A’level given the current educational policy
- Creating more links with other big schools within and abroad.
- Brining teachers within Agago together and see a way of benefiting from each other.
Long-term – 7-15 years
- Full boarding
- More permanent premium building (classrooms, dormitories)
- Best school in Northern Region with premium facilities and excellent performance
- Creating employment, the community
- Best A’level with students passing at grade that can obtain scholarships to top Universities both National and International.
- Opening collages/branches in other major sub-countries to help give access to the most vulnerable in the rural areas.
- Introducing technical subjects and opening a teaching hospital for training and helping the community
What is your advice to the community, and to those who are responsible and/or care about the plight of your people?
We are now out of the war but we still have major crises to fight- extreme weak education, acute poverty, diseases, climatic crisis.
We are the solution to our community. Ranging from individual, religious institutions, cultural leaders, associations, political leaders, diaspora we need to get organised with one focus of becoming a centre of economic activity, creating a green society, restoring education, and fighting poverty.
Importantly, we need to protect our land with wisdom. We are now the only society with fertile and arable land large enough to feed the whole world. We can utilize the land and create wealth, fight poverty and empower our children to gain quality education.
Mr Obonyo Alex concludes interview
We appreciate you very much Dr. Okot Angelo – Director Safe Haven Academy for giving us your time, sharing your thoughts about your business and insights on how intend to make better the wellbeing of the impoverished population of your district where you come from through providing opportunity to access sustainable quality education, in essence, your desire to give back to the community, what you struggled to attain and eventually did. and how the business has grown how it is impacting on to the community of Kalongo. Well-done and continue to do the good work.
The Kalongo Times is a news publication which celebrates progress and development in Kalongo town and the wider Deaconry (formally Kalongo Mission). The Deaconry encompasses present-day Agago, part of Pader, part of Kitgum and part of Abim.