“The funny thing about me, I have 3 birthdays,” Fred offers the bait, eager to share his favorite story. Fred is in his final year of secondary school, and dreams of becoming a doctor. He’s also a skilled speaker, winning trophies for his school in debate for the past four years.
The birthday dispute boils down to conflicting stories. Fred’s mother says he was born on June 6, his uncle says April 6, but he has yet another birth certificate that says August 6. While this might be disconcerting for some, Fred looks on the bright side.
“I buy sodas for me and my friends,” he says. “I celebrate all of them.”
Fred was raised by his mother, his aunts and his grandmother. In the division of labor in northern Uganda, cooking falls squarely within the realm of women, but Fred seems proud of the fact that he knows how to cook and helped his mom to raise his younger brother and sister. It’s apparent that his family relies on him. After he earned the second highest score at Layibi Secondary School, a school in Kampala tried to recruit him with a scholarship offer. His mother was struggling to afford school fees for Fred and his siblings, but she couldn’t stand the idea of him moving so far away. Instead she encouraged him to apply for the Legacy Scholarship Program.
The Legacy Scholarship Program was designed to provide education opportunities to the future leaders of Uganda by identifying academically strong students who for one reason or another might find it difficult to get an education. Fred, coming from a single-parent home and struggling with finances, had also proved himself a bright and hard-working student.
“I was born a leader,” Fred says. His confidence has grown since he began his public speaking career in primary school, giving a speech in front of one of the district leaders.
“I spoke very good English. But I forgot my name,” he laughs.
Since then he has been better at remembering his name, and has gained confidence speaking to public officials on everything from government support of education, to speaking out against corporal punishment. In 2010, he was chosen to represent his school at the Ugandan Parliament.
Speaking up and being a mediator is where Fred excels. Teachers often rely on him to help make the peace when there is conflict among students. Fred also has a deep caring for the sick. At school he says he feels responsible to keep an eye on his fellow students whenever they fall ill, sometimes bringing them into his own room so he can monitor them. In his own family, some of his relatives are infected with HIV/AIDS, increasing his motivation to become a doctor.
“Doctors are few and health services are bad,” Fred says. “I think I could help a lot of people and save lives.”
While many people talk about wanting to move to another country with better opportunities, Fred has a different take on the situation.
“Some people run from problems,” he says. But running isn’t part of Fred’s plan. He would rather see Uganda change for the better. “You should make home the best place to live in.
Fred expects to graduate from secondary school next year, after which he will head to university. Then Fred plans to get to work making his home a better place.