21-year-old Alice Namongin is a third-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Statistics at Makerere University, courtesy of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program. She is the second student from the Ik, a minority tribal community in Uganda to attain higher education at the university level.
Situation: My early life…
Alice Namongin was born in a peasantry home of a family of seven. Like most African men in the past, Alice’s father is a polygamous husband with three wives and 13 children.
“I was born in Kitale, Kenya, where my father met my mother, a Turkana. By then, my father was a carpenter at the Red Cross Society of Kenya. I am the 4th born to my late mother, Jessica Natabo, who was the second wife to my father and bore seven children”
Soon, life took a different twist, when her father, a primary seven drop-out of Komukun Boys School in Kaabong, abandoned his job in Kenya to return to his roots in Karamoja.
‘I remember when we were leaving Kitale, we never boarded a bus or even a motorcycle; we walked for days on end, from Kenya to Kaabong in the Karamoja sub-region. You can imagine, I was only eight years old.” Alice recounts.
‘My childhood was full of hardships with no one to guide me. In the community where I come from, there is no role model; the only thing you saw were young people dropping out of school and getting married at an early age. I never saw a future during my childhood.’
In Kaabong, her father had to start life from scratch.
“In Kaabong, we had nothing. Even when I joined Komukun Girls’ Primary School in P3, I had nothing; I was taken to school and told; ‘this is your dormitory, and these are your sisters, so you have to stay with them.”
‘My biggest challenge was that I understood and spoke only English and Swahili yet at Komukun Primary School most of the subjects like storytelling, Mathematics, and others were taught in the Akarimojong language. I was forced to learn the language in the course of the term.’
For the quick learner she is, it was a matter of time before Namongin learned the Akarimojong language.
“I used to speak to my Ik friends only unfortunately, most of them dropped out of school along the way. They got pregnant and were forced into early marriages. We were around 87 pupils when I joined P3 but, by the time I sat Primary Leaving Exams (PLE) in 2013, we were 32 pupils. I was the only Ik girl; the rest were Dodoth!’
Rising above discrimination and prejudice…
Namongin scored 13 aggregate in 2014 and joined Kangole Girls’ Secondary School. Coming from a minority community, Namongin had to contend with scorn, spite, outright bullying, and discrimination only worsened by the fact that the Ik are largely, uneducated. This, however, didn’t break her resolve to succeed in life. If anything, Namongin’s tenacity to prove her detractors wrong was emboldened by what would prepare her for the tougher challenges life threw her way, when she sat the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) exams she scored 38 aggregates in 8 subjects.
“I would say my performance was fair because I really had a lot of challenges; coming from a minority group, I suffered prejudice and discrimination and, of course, many classmates knew I came from a community that is not educated and when they saw me around, they didn’t want to relate with me.”
“Many people did everything to discourage me because I was the only Ik girl around. Some of the people said that I would not make it because the Ik before me didn’t make it; so who are you? What do you really think you are going to do?”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, raising school fees and scholastic materials equally posed a serious challenge.
“My dad struggled to raise school fees. Sometimes I was chased from school and, for weeks, stayed away from class until he harvested and sold his crops,”
If you know what you want, go for it…
After her O’ Level, Namongin stayed at Kangole Girls’ Secondary School for her A’ Level studies, offering Mathematics, Economics, Geography, and ICT (MEG/ICT).
‘I actually didn’t have any hope of joining A’ Level, because my father couldn’t afford school fees. My elder sister and family wanted me to enroll for a Certificate in Nursing, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to join A’ Level,’ she says.
“I knew we were many in the family and our father couldn’t support all of us, much as he loved all of us to study. I had to travel a distance of 70km to access primary and secondary education, therefore it was hurting for me to just end at 0’Level after all the challenges I had transcended.
Alice has succeeded because, unlike her peers from the Karamoja sub-region, she is very strong, committed, and focused. She knows what she wants. Among all the girls she studied with, she is the only one who progressed to University,” Lokwang her big brother, says.
Lady Luck struck and she joined A’ Level, but the start wasn’t good either.
“I reported a month later with only a metallic box. I really didn’t have much of the scholastic materials like other students,’ however, in senior five, an opportunity to stand for the school’s Head Girl position presented itself, and Namongin, with open hands, took it.
“I stood and was elected the Head Girl,’ she beams with a wide smile. ‘I won because I was social and had never wanted to be discriminatory even when I suffered from it. I have always felt I am a leader and when I interacted with the rest of the students, they saw in me the qualities of a good leader. That is why they gave me the mandate to lead them,”
In 2018, Namongin scored 11 points in the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) exams, however, the same problem of lacking tuition fees for her next level of education persisted like a plague.
“I missed out on Government sponsorship under district quota for Kaabong district, because I studied at Kangole Girls’ Secondary School which is located in Napak district.”
Raising Action: Mastercard Foundation Scholarship comes in handy…
“I got to know about the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program when I was in my senior six. I had gone to check on my Mock examinations results when I met some students who were Mastercard Foundation Scholars at FAWE Uganda. These students had a Scholarship poster which I read and informed me about the program.”
“However, for someone who lived 68kms away from Kaabong town, with hardly any internet or even transport, it was going to be a toll order to apply for a scholarship which required one to either apply online or download the form from the website, or pick a physical application form at the district where Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program officials from Makerere university had placed them”
“As a blessing in disguise, I fell sick and came to a hospital in Kaabong town for treatment. It was there that a friend of mine brought me the Scholarship application form. After a while, I got a call to attend interviews, and the rest is history.”
“At school, my UACE result slip was held because I hadn’t cleared Uganda shillings (500,000/=) about USD 135 in school fees, however, I negotiated and was given the slip. I needed it for the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program interviews. In fact, the first time I came to Kampala was to attend the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program interviews at Makerere University in 2020. I was so excited that when I went back to my village after two days, I told people I had been to Kampala and they should also work hard to go to Kampala,’ Namongin says with a smile.
Climax: My first dream achieved…
“I had no hope that Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at Makerere University would take me in. In fact, I don’t think I would have joined Makerere University, if Mastercard Foundation had not given me the opportunity. I would have stayed at home and looked after my father’s few cows. I am very lucky to have come this far.” Alice asserts.
As a child, Namongin dreamt of being a lawyer so that she could champion the efforts to seek justice for the poor and the voiceless.
“I love humanity and justice for all, my dream was to become a lawyer, because I remember, as a 15-year-old young girl, I saw a young IK girl being raped, but never got justice when she went to court. The man was freed!’ Namongin recounts with tears in her eyes.
My impact so far…
Only three years into her enrollment at the university, Namongin is already creating an impact in her community.
“I missed mentorship during my high school days. So as part of giving back to my community, which is one of the ethos of the Mastercard Foundation, I offer mentorship to other young girls in my community. I do the mentorship to inspire as many Ik young people, especially girls to keep in school and get to the university and even beyond, if possible.” Namongin says with a sense of satisfaction.
Resolution: What the future holds…
For a youngster who dreamt of becoming a lawyer, Namongin now sees a future as a business lady.
“I chose the business course myself because I love entrepreneurship. I see myself becoming a businesswoman. I want to go back home and start a farm. We have 10 acres of land, but my father grows coffee on half an acre,”
About Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at Makerere University
The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at Makerere University is a partnership between Mastercard Foundation and Makerere University to offer scholarships to 1,000 academically bright, gifted, and talented young people from Africa to study at Makerere University. The Scholars Program is in its 9th year of implementation at Makerere University, under the Planning and Development Department, with the goal of educating and empowering the next generation of leaders at Makerere University. The mission is to enable academically talented and gifted young people in Africa to access quality university education and transform into enterprising leaders to meaningfully contribute to the development of their countries. To date, the Program has recruited and educated 1,032 young people, of which 497 have graduated and joined the workforce in Uganda.
The story was compiled by the Communications team, Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at Makerere University.