Determined: Awor in class with pupils
AGNES Awor is living proof that an old woman can learn new tricks. By her own reckoning, Awor is 58. She has no papers to prove her age, but her late father, an illiterate labourer, used to carve a notch in a stick every time a new child was born into the family.
Awor's notch, one of the many her father would carve over the course of her life, indicates that Awor came into the world some time around 1952.
Awor, who never spent a day in school, is a widow with six children. Her parents died of sleeping sickness, and her guardians did not bother to take her to school.
But all that changed when the Government introduced Functional Adult Literacy Education (FAL) in 1998. Many responded to the call with an initial enrollment of about 50,000 countrywide.
Awor endured six years of FAL, learning how to read and write. She had to learn to spell and pronounce difficult words, a hard task for an illiterate like her. "But because I was determined to get rid of ignorance and know how to count money, I worked hard," says this grandmother of four.
Awor joins P.1
After this success, Awor initially did not want to go through primary education, but inspired by the urge to know how to read the church hymns and the call by their Bishop Wamika to always yearn for change, she joined primary school.
On her first day at Makaur Primary School in Kisoko sub-county, Tororo district, Awor, barefoot and in rugs, limped to the headmaster's office.
Robert Kasami Osinde, the headmaster, thought she was joking, but Awor was insistent, and Osinde gave her a chance. He told her to purchase the school's uniform and scholastic materials.
Dressed smartly in her green uniform, she joined with excitement and one mission: to bury illiteracy and ignorance.
The other pupils were amused by the old woman's presence. But over time, they grew accustomed to having Awor as a classmate.
The education officials were stunned that Awor, well beyond school age, had joined primary. It is reported some even requested her to return to the adult literacy programme, but Awor would have none of that. She said she felt compelled to start at the beginning.
School officials gave Awor a front row seat because of her impaired eyesight and hearing problem.
What people think of her
Gorretti Mumya, Awor's former P.2 teacher, says: "She is determined. She even comes for the morning physical education."
Specioza Achieng, her class teacher, says Awor is always among the best 10 in every class - P.1 to P.4.
Achieng says in class, fellow pupils call her Aunt Agnes. Her friends, Sofoloza Napa and Kevin Achieng, say her best subject is English. Napa says sometimes Aunt Agnes fails to understand what she reads.
A day at school
At Makaur Primary School, Awor is frequently the first to arrive in the morning, sometimes an hour early. During school time, she plays the role of both pupil and teacher. She feels free giving advice to her classmates, reminding them to study hard and listen to their parents. She also assumes the role of class monitor when the teacher is away.
She also regales teachers, most of whom are half her age, with stories about Uganda's history.
"We learn a lot from her," says Achieng. "She is like a history book."
But despite this success, Osinde the school administrator, fears her constant sickness and the bread winner role she plays in her family may interfere with her academics. Early this year, Awor was admitted in Mulago Hospital with severe pain in her joints.
After school, Awor goes back home to look for food for her four grandchildren who stay with her.
"Before I go to school, I wake up very early in the morning, dig and prepare lunch for my grandchildren," she says.
At home, she also tends her small herd of sheep, goats and chicken. Later, she studies before dinner. She is the only pupil who asks the teacher for homework. Her inspiration is to catch up with the brighter pupils.
She has had to endure constant stigma and ridicule from the community. There were those in her Pei-Pei village who thought Awor had gone mad.
But there were those who defended her. "I know her. She is not senile," Mumya would say.
"Let them make fun of me," says Awor. "I will continue to learn." She adds that this will help her determine whether the preacher at church is actually following the bible.
She is also learning basic math. When she gets confused, she uses rocks to calculate the numbers. Awor says mastering math will allow her to better keep track of her money and avoid being cheated in the market.
When Awor was only 10 years old, she stayed with her uncle in Moroto barracks and eventually got married to a soldier. The marriage did not work out, so she got married to another man, but unfortunately, he died and the relatives of the man threw her out of the house. She was mistreated by them and is seeking compensation. Whether her compensation claim is successful, nobody knows for sure. But Awor is honing her addition and subtraction skills just in case the windfall arrives.
As a young girl, she earned her keep by doing manual labour on farms and supplemented with income from making malwa (a local alcoholic brew) and crude waragi. She used the money to buy an acre of land and also pay school fees for her children. All her children completed S.6.
If her writing improves, she says may write a book about her suffering - how she was mistreated by relatives and how in-laws chased her from the home she built with her husband.