To my placement college, Daniel Comboni Vocational Institute in Gulu, for the graduation of our first cohort of students on the Youth Development Programme. (The DFID sponsored vocational and employability skills training project across Northern Uganda).
I have just read a recent Guardian article about the UK meeting the 0.7% of gross national income target for donating foreign aid. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/apr/03/uk-meets-foreign-aid-target. The UK is one of few countries to do so, the so-called G07 group, but given current Tory backbench thinking and the rise of Farage, our government has kept this success quiet.
Whatever your thoughts about international development and foreign aid, this UK funded graduation in Gulu was a big day for those concerned: the students finishing their six months training; the teachers who had worked so hard to get them there; local elders; local politicians; student families and friends; senior management of the college who had put everything together; VSO programme staff. The potential released by this training really boosts the community; it was a constant theme of the speeches (many speeches, about 4 hours in total). As the student representative said:
“Before this programme we could only watch and wonder. We were not allowed to lift a tool, a hammer a spanner, to use a weaving machine, to hold a hairdryer. Now we can do anything and we can play our part in our community and build a better Uganda”
The excitement was continuous, climaxing with the actual handing out of the certificates, particularly noticeable when the hairdressers and sweater weavers came to get their papers. Certificates really matter; they are crucial evidence that you have done something meaningful.
Each graduates name is read out at high volume, their families cheer, women ululate even louder than the PA and often dance the graduate up to collect the paper. A Motor Vehicle teacher leant over and shouted in my ear as a mother grabbed her son to hug him in pride, “these days don’t come very often”.
Graduates are photographed in a group, the Guest of Honour is then formally asked to ratify their graduation with another short speech. Eight subjects, eight speeches, and each time we get that feature without which no Uganda celebration is complete: Cliff Richard’s 1968 hit, ‘Congratulations’. It is played randomly and suddenly throughout the complex certification process. At one point Cliff told us so loudly that ‘he used to think that happiness hadn’t been invented’ it almost knocked me off my feet, causing one of the biggest laughs of the day.
Happiness was everywhere, and without UK aid it would not have happened. It was also gratifying to hear how many of the speakers had grasped the fundamental theme of VSO’s approach; sustainability. This training was only the start, it would be up to the trainee, their family and community (with post training support from the programme) to get onto the next step of their economic independence. The District Youth leader (one of the oldest men there) told trainees:
“You must show respect to your learning, you are already the resource of yourself”
I can leave the last words to the great Maurice Bricky, the student songwriter, you can see him here receiving his Bricklaying and Concrete Practice certificate. Before that he gave us another hearing of his VSO/ DFID song, already a favourite with this audience.
So much so that the head of BCP, today’s Master of Ceremonies in an astonishing white suit, gave Maurice a special gift all of his own to mark his contribution.
Here are some of his lyrics and for those who missed it here is a link back to his song.
“We’ve come a long way; we’ve travelled far – all to seek education
Previously we walked heads down
Today we walk heads up – because we have knowledge and skills
We can practice what we have learned
We can now reduce poverty with our skills
We can now reduce ignorance we were formally in
Morris Bricky – Good boy
We give back all our thanks to DFID – for helping us
We give back all our thanks to VSO – for helping us
Now my sister knows sweater knitting – all because of DFID
Now my brother knows motor vehicle repair – all because of VSO
Motorcycle repair; metal fabrication; building – not a problem!
Electrical installation; hair care – all because of DFID
Our hand works are beautiful and beautiful – all because of VSO”