Northern Uganda – The Changing Life of Brian

“You’ve really helped me, Ben”, Brian says.  Brian is one of the newest members of the Butterfly Project recruited this

Brian at a recent visit to social enterprise farm, Katende Harambe

Brian at a recent visit to social enterprise farm, Katende Harambe

year to be trained as a social entrepreneur.  “Since my older brother lost his job, he’s only been able to afford to pay for my sister’s school fees and that meant I was at school but with no way to pay for the fees.”

“Actually, I had to hide in the school, as they frequently caned non-paying pupils,” he added.  “I found places they wouldn’t look for me and most of the time, I was able to avoid the punishment.”

I remembered the discussion I’d had with Brian earlier, when he told me that when he was younger his mother used to listen to the radio to hear about when the Rebels were nearby, how she told him to “Run, Run, Run” until dusk, when children had to hide under long grass at night, rather than sleep in their beds, because they risked being found and pressganged into the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Brian knew many that had joined that army and had seen many beaten up by it.  His mother used to run alongside him, with his small brother in her arms to save themselves, time after time.

Eventually, they were moved into a Displacement Camp, which were defended by local militia.  Even these camps were attacked by Rebels and the children inside would pray that the camp defence would be strong enough.

He told me that teachers were recruited into these camps and that he used to go into these schools knowing nothing at all and with little enthusiasm to learn.  The thinnest exercise books were then cut into pieces, so that most children could have some semblance of a book on which to write their class notes.  Maybe they would share pens too – I don’t know.  Brian knew just two words of English and he smiled as he said he used to answer all the questions using just these two words – his age and his class.

When the war in Northern Uganda came to an end, Brian was able to move back to his home from the camp and moved to a new school, near where our new Centre has been built in Gulu district.  The trauma of the previous years was still a problem and his education had hardly progressed and he found himself doing not very well and thinking he was not very good, even repeating a year. Gradually his performance improved and he started to realise that he was learning and shocked himself with a brilliant First Grade result early in his last Primary School year, then translated into a First Grade in the final examination to qualify for secondary too.  Brian explains that his young mind was immature and had not understood the importance of being educated beforehand, but I sense that there was more to it than that.

While his father was alive, his education also consisted of learning how to trap and kill animals for food, how to create snares and how to avoid angering dangerous creatures, risking injury.  But Brian has a special affinity to animals and above all he loves dogs.  He says he can sense things in animals and they will often respond well to him.  He hopes to be a vet in future and he plans his animal rearing projects with a finesse well beyond his years.  He recounts stories of going hunting with his sister and smaller brother, but in the end preferring to hunt on his own.

Brian at home in rural Koro, where our new centre is based

Brian at home in rural Koro, where our new centre is based

Brian’s father was killed by a hit and run driver, a woman driving to Sudan, Brian thinks, as they tried to trace the number plate in vain.  It was a few years back, but the impact is still being felt, as the family struggles with adversity.  His father used to lead a construction team and was a very skilled builder.  He died a few weeks after being hit by the car from his injuries.

We try to encourage our members to be thinkers and in fact we teach “Thinking Skills” as part of the Butterfly Curriculum, using de Bono’s six thinking hats.  It’s one of those sessions where you teach and you hope, but later you realise how exciting it is for children to be thinking and expected to come up with solutions themselves.  Brian has had a long-term idea to bring water to his village.  In fact it is really dreadful in Koro, as most children are walking or, in some cases cycling, 2-3 miles to the nearest borehole.  So I asked him how serious he was about his water project.  “Very serious”, he said.  “How many piglets would I have to sell to create a borehole?”

And this is the essence of the Butterfly Project.  Children exposed to hardship wanting to create a better life for others around them, using the education that they have been given, but their parents and most of their community have lacked.

Brian is also amongst those we have in our project who don’t yet have a sponsor.  £45 per month creates a new social entrepreneur for Uganda.  Please contact me at for details, if you’d like to sponsor him or any other member of our project.

Written by Ben Parkinson, Director, Butterfly Project, Uganda


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