Award-winning Ugandan education activist Beatrice Ayuru says thousands of girls have reached her dream of a good education for Ugandan children. But she says the struggle to guarantee schooling for all is far from over.
Ms. Ayuru spoke to VOA before appearing at a TEDx event in Geneva, Switzerland. TED is a nonprofit group that works to share information and ideas by organizing short, public speeches.
For her TED talk, Ms. Ayuru discussed her long and successful struggle to establish a school in a rural area of northern Uganda.
In 2000, she opened Lira Integrated School in a poor area of the city of Lira. At the time, the rebel Lord's Resistance Army was terrorizing the area's population with murder, torture and child kidnappings.
The story of Ms. Ayuru's activism begins in own childhood. She was one of 16 children in a polygamous family. Her father valued education and supported her desire for it. But she said the poverty and cultural barriers affecting women in her society worked against her.
"I would say the environment shaped me a lot. Even while I felt I was going through hard moments, but others girls were worse than me. They were forced into early marriages. They were not given opportunity to be in school. It was a very painful life."
She graduated from high school to become the first student from her school to gain admission to a national university. After completing a degree from Makerere University she began teaching.
At age 19, Ms. Ayuru had just become the mother of the second of her six children. She had no money. But her father gave her land. She says it was the need to support her children that made her work hard.
"I realized what I had was land. I am already teaching, but I am not earning salary, so I started with planting cassava. That was all I could afford, using my energy because I could not employ people to do anything."
Later, she opened some small businesses. Money from those and the cassava crop helped her build the school in 2000. But continuing attacks from the Lord's Resistance Army threatened the school.
"During the war, we would always run with the children from school to the town to hide them. Then, during the day we collected them from town again to come and have lessons."
In 2007, the LRA lost its fight for control of northern Uganda and fled the area. Beatrice Ayuru's school has been doing well ever since. It teaches 1,500 students from nursery through high school. The cost to attend is about 90 dollars a year. Many parents cannot pay. So the school gives financial help to 100 children who lack money but show promise.
Lira Integrated School accepts both girls and boys. Ms. Ayuru says having both sexes study together is important because it helps boys to respect girls.
In 2009, the school founder took steps toward building a university. Beatrice Ayuru says she is getting closer to reaching her dream.
I'm Jeri Watson.