My journey to the U.S started 10 years ago

On June 19, 2019, I arrived to the United States to participate in the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship. From Uganda, 24 fellows were selected by the U.S Embassy to this prestigious program. Like many Ugandans, it has always been in my dreams to reach the U.S, the biggest economy & superpower (although there are other powers).

The University Scholarship – 2009

So, how did I reach here? The story is long, but from my personal standpoint, my desire to reach the U.S started at university – about 10 years ago. After my senior six, I wanted to get into university, however the money situation at home wasn’t good. My dad was now retired and my elder sister had just completed & also depleted financial resources available. The future was bleak. That was in 2009. When the results came back, I was among the best in my school and district. I was excited, but the excitement faded into despair as I remembered the issues back home. From everybody’s viewpoint, there was no way I could manage to raise tuition, moreover for 3 years.

After a lot of thought and determination, I told mum that I was going to apply to Gulu University, and I would report to start my undergraduate degree even though the tuition issues were going well.

In May 2009, I applied and I was admitted to study Bachelor of Information & Communication Technology. I was admitted and travelled for the first time to Gulu to pick up my admission, unfortunately, the admission letters weren’t ready and after 3 days decided to return back to Dokolo. But at least I had seen my name on the admission lists on the notice board.

Upon return, I continued preparing to go to university as if everything was fine. I told mum that I would rather go to university, start studying and be chased because of tuition and come back home rather than sit home and give up totally. After a few weeks, I went back to university with a few thousand shillings ready to start studies.

Usually, the first week for first year students at university is the orientation week. It was during one of the orientation days that I saw a scholarship advert on one of the student’s notice boards. The advert was calling for fresh students to apply for Gulu University-Tulane University ICT Project scholarships. I normally carry a pen and paper in my pockets so I wrote down the details quickly and went back to my hostel – which was a grass thatched house left behind by returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by 20 years of war in northern Uganda. I started preparing my application. The requirements were simple. One had to be coming from one the districts from northern Uganda and must have gained admission to either BSc Computer Science or Bachelor of Information & Communication Technology. The next day I went back to double check details on the advert, I found it was nowhere. It had been plucked out.

I applied for the scholarship, got shortlisted and I was finally awarded the scholarship. The scholarship was a result of partnership between Gulu University and Tulane University from the U.S.

That is how I started getting attached to U.S. I also note here that our secondary school education teaches us a lot about the U.S in many subjects – geography, history, literature and even religious students. So, you start fantasizing about the U.S very early in life.

When I got the scholarship, I became very interested in the U.S. So much so that I started following everything about the country – technology, education, politics and even Hollywood. Because it was the American money paying for my education, my attitudes changed about the country and started dreaming about visiting the U.S. After all, it was not only me. Everybody in the world believes the U.S is the greatest country and land of opportunity – and of course the American dream. The movies portray it as land of plenty, power, happiness and success!

My desire became stronger with each passing day. After all, the U.S citizens had contributed substantially to my education. At least I needed to show I am grateful, somehow anyhow.

Technovation Challenge

In 2012 when I started work at Lira Town College, I got involved in STEM activities (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) and projects including robotics, science fairs and many schools would compete in the competitions, which were held mostly in Kampala. I engaged myself in these projects fully, because they allowed to go out to meet my peers, tech experts and enabled students love my subject. So, together with students the first competition we took part in was the Science & Technology Innovations Challenge (STIC) in 2012. We didn’t do well that first year. However, in 2013, we did very well and we won our first major award in tech in Uganda – we were 2nd runners up. Because of the good work we did to win that award, one of the judges at the event, Dr. Dorothy Okello got my contacts and later emailed me about this all-girls-only competition called the Technovation Challenge. That’s how I got to learn about Technovation Challenge. Immediately, we embarked on it and were one of the only 2 schools that participated in the 2013 and 2014 years. After, many schools really came of board and became very competitive. However, due to my pioneering efforts with the programme, I was able to be appointed us the regional ambassador for northern Uganda. The position came to the opportunity to travel to the U.S to attend the grand finals. So, in 2013 I was invited to travel, and all funding was available but I couldn’t because my students were doing national exams around the same and I also didn’t have a passport at the time.

In 2015 again, I got the same opportunity but still I could not travel because of no passport. Opportunity missed twice. But that was not it.

Also, my work and passion for e-learning resulted into an invitation to Rwanda in 2014 for an e-learning conference. I still didn’t make it. The following year, the same guys invited me again to Ethiopia for the e-learning conference again, still like the previous years, I remained in my country. Same problem, no passport.

My break came when I was nominated for the 2017 Teachers Making a Difference competition (organised by New Vision & partners) and I emerged among the best 5 teachers that year. At the awards ceremony on October 05, 2017 (World Teachers Day), we were rewarded with Uganda shillings 1.5 million, a plaque and a certificate and a trip to Dublin, Ireland. So, I used part of the money to process a passport, so I can go for the trip. And the Embassy of Ireland & New Vision supported us a lot all through the process.

With the passport, I was able to travel abroad for the first time in January 2018. Now, that opportunity has opened doors for other opportunities. In life, just like Steve Jobs said, sometimes the dots all connect together.

It has been a very long journey. I am grateful to Makerere University, my lecturers at university, my colleague at work, my students, my friends, my parents and my difficult my life for pushing me my life’s direction. Life is full of experiences.

6 thoughts on “My journey to the U.S started 10 years ago

  1. Thanks for your experience in life though it was touching but after reading your story i realize there is no need to give up in life . In that situation am very sure i will also make it the same way as you since you’re my mentor and my best ever teacher for ICT giving me also an opportunity to attend the technology camp for the first time in 2017in Gulu which gave me a lot of challenges and may other things i can’t mentioned, congratulations sir my mentor may God keep rewarding you.

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    • Ocen Haggai, you can do a lot of good stuff in this world. You just have to work hard everyday, even when do one notices or appreciate. I happy you among the generation I touch directly- I am proud of you guys.

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