They didn’t walk across the stage individually to receive their diplomas – which is a good thing, since there were more than 9,000 of them. Instead, as each area of study was presented, the graduates came out as a group, singing and dancing in celebration of their accomplishments.

The graduates were women – young women mostly, but also women of all different ages – who completed community education programs throughout Wakiso District, one of the largest geographical districts in Uganda.  To understand how significant this was, though, you need a little background information.

Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world, and also has the world’s youngest population, with more than 50% of its citizens under the age of 15. In addition to the obvious struggles that face everyone forced to live in poverty, women encounter additional difficulties and challenges in their lives. Many are given away in marriage at a very young age, or are forced to stay home to take care of their families. Often, they are denied educational opportunities, and their future becomes even more bleak and hopeless. Prostitution is rampant, and may be the only means of survival for some women – and their children.

In an environment such as this, the graduation of 9,000+ women is indeed cause for celebration, especially when the graduates have been trained in vocations such as baking, catering, sewing, tailoring, and hairdressing – all in-demand services in Uganda.

The graduation was a huge event, held under tents set up in the parking lot of the Nelson Mandela Stadium, the largest venue in Uganda. The speakers at the graduation included the president of Uganda and the Minister of Education.

Tabitha, my Ugandan friend, was invited to attend the ceremony because Pathways to Hope Africa, the organization she founded, has already done much to help lift women out of poverty and prostitution, through the establishment of a poultry farm, two sewing centers, and other projects in various stages and locations throughout Uganda.

Traveling and working with Tabitha over the years has opened my eyes to a whole new world, and to a level of need unlike anything I could ever have imagined. It has also given me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, and to take part in celebrations of accomplishment and hope – like this one, and others I’ve experienced throughout Uganda. I hope they will continue for many years to come.

January 4, 2019
©Betty Liedtke, 2019

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