Finding the Pearl of Friendship in Uganda

Everyday Stories of Peace,
Green Scarf Stories, entry eight, July 14, 2014

Free and compulsory education until (at least) the age of twelve may be a universal right, but it is not equally or universally accessed by all children. Look at these two facts about education in Uganda.

In Uganda, only 40% of children complete primary school.

In Uganda, only 12% of children go on to secondary school.

Because of the inequalities in access to education around the globe, organizations like the Kasiisi Schools Project ( are essential to closing the gap in enabling all children to realize their right to an education, as well as good quality education.

Yet there is another benefit of organizations like the Kasiisi Schools Project which sponsor promising students. This is in the personal connections and friendships which are made between people who live in different countries and may otherwise not have the opportunity to meet each other. In the long run, this builds peace through understanding.

One of the best things about going to Uganda last month was being able to meet Ategeka Christopher, a dedicated student whose education our family has sponsored through the Kasiisi Schools Project since 2008. Here he is, a handsome graduate from what would be the equivalent of high school in the United States, or gymnasium as it is called in Sweden.

IMG_1356Through our correspondence with him, we have been able to follow his progress and growth, as well as his determination to pursue his education and make plans for his future. But before I share a few details about our cherished time with Ategeka Christopher, who is about the same age as my son Erik, I want to give you a description of both boys from about five years ago, who found out through their correspondence that they had a lot in common.

2009. Near the Kiblae National Park in Uganda lives a boy named Ategeka Christopher with his mother and five siblings. The oldest boy in his family, fifteen year old Christopher studies diligently and is third in his class of 102 students. Erik is also fifteen, the oldest boy in his family and a good student. Both like music, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, and are serious about the subjects of math and science. Each helps with family chores (Erik empties the dishwasher and mows the lawn; Christopher and his siblings fetch water from the borehole three times a day and help with the family’s crops). They each speak a language at home which is not taught at school (Erik speaks Swedish and Christopher speaks Rutooro, the language of his native Toro tribe). Ategeka Christopher and Erik alike have thought about the possibility of becoming President of the United States, even though by place of birth, neither would be eligible (“I may be the second black president of the U.S.A., you never know,” wrote Ategeka Christopher in a letter to us.)


So when we were finally able to meet Ategeka Christopher a few weeks ago, we already knew a lot about each other. It was a friendship that had begun years earlier with our initial correspondence. The time we shared together in Uganda was a treasure. We even had this amazing full moon with a wide white ring around it to help us mark our days together.


Here is Erik’s photo of the sunrise, taken one morning before he met up with Ategeka Christopher.

IMG_1574It was Ategeka Christopher who gave us our pet names (or empaakos), something essential to being part of the community in Uganda. These empaakos are used before your first name, and it is considered disrespectful to not include them when you greet a person. Erik became “Amooti Erik” (Amooti means king), and I became “Akiki Sara” (Akiiki means a great person, a name also used by Ategeka Christopher’s own mother). Atwooki is Ategeka Christopher’s empaako, we learned, which means bridegroom (or bride, when used as an empaako for girls). Atwooki Christopher, therefore, is a fitting name for a handsome young man. In any case, we felt that we couldn’t go wrong with our new empaakos.

When you land at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda, you are greeted with a sign that reads “Welcome to the pearl of Africa.” For both Erik and myself, the real pearl of Africa, and Uganda in particular, was found in the ties of friendship. Ategeka Christopher kindly gave us this beautifully hand-carved plaque which is now hanging on the wall in our home.

IMG_2492Of course another great part about going to Uganda last month was being able to spend some quality time with my son Erik. Here we are standing in separate hemispheres, but finding some common ground on the Equator.


One thought on “Finding the Pearl of Friendship in Uganda

  1. Erik I enjoyed the story about your trip to Uganda with your Mom. I have a lot of questions about your trip to ask you when you get here. Love, Poppy

    Sent from my iPad

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