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Tuesday, October 3, 2023
Evelyn Kiapi Matsamura
LIRA, Sep 25 2003 (IPS) - Dorcus Apecu is a schoolgirl who keeps her fingers crossed. She is praying that her mother does not take her out of school and get her married due to lack of school fees.
At sixteen, Dorcus is already ‘over age’ in a society where girls are married off early in order to get bride price and reduce family burdens.
Dorcus Apecu is a primary seven schoolgirl who keeps her fingers crossed. She is praying that her mother does not take her out of school and get her married due to lack of school fees.
At sixteen, Dorcus is already ‘over age’ in a society where girls are married off early in order to get bride price and reduce family burdens. Dorcus’ two sisters are already married because their mother could not afford to look after them after their father died, leaving behind nine children and a jobless wife.
Dorcus is the third born and she is worried that she is next in line. ”My mother is a peasant and my father is dead. I am the only one going to school,” she says shyly.
But she still loves school and wants to achieve results. And while there, one thing could save her. She has a talent, has discovered it and is ready to develop it. And she has a feeling it could get her places and help her to secure a future. Dorcus is an athlete who has been performing well.
She topped the 800-metre race in the post primary athletics championships this year and has done well during all her school races. While on the tracks, she speeds with passion, trying hard not to be left behind. She has a dream; a dream to excel.
Lira is one of Uganda’s northern districts where political instability rules and child abductions persist due to the conflict between the government and rebels of the Lords Resistance Army led by self-styled leader Joseph Kony. Estimates place at more than 20,000, the number of children abducted by the LRA since the beginning of the conflict in 1986.
Since June 2002 alone, a Human Rights Watch report released recently says, the LRA has abducted approximately 8,400 children. After abductions, younger girls are assigned to commanders as servants who work from dawn to dusk. Others are ‘married’ off to the top commanders as ‘wives’.
For young people like Dorcus, much of the trauma and political instability has a direct impact on their lives. Her only hope in a politically unstable society, and where tradition and culture supports early marriages, is her ability to win an international race and gain a name for herself.
”I do not want to get married. I want to become a top sports girl and travel abroad for international races,” she told IPS.”I am training hard. I have to make it,” she says.
Dorcus was one of the young athletes who joined a holiday training camp in her hometown Lira where they spend their two weeks holidays training on the tracks and doing road runs in a bid to develop talent. The camp adjourned last week and returns during the next school holidays.
The camps are organised by the Michael Ezra Track Team Board (MTTB), an indigenous organisation that helps young rural athletes develop their talent on the field. The camp that has athletes from primary and secondary school students from Lira and Kitgum districts and has attracted a section of young talented and potential sports people, 18 years and below, many of whom are girls.
”With the help of MTTB, we hope to get athletes groomed so that they live a happy and self reliant life. This is so especially for the girls,” says Josephine Awal, the camp co-ordinator.
”Our idea is to see these young men and women have a future,” she says. She says other athletes from Gulu and Padyer could not make it to the camp due to the political instability. ”We would have liked them to be here. We would like to see these young men and women have a future,” Awal says. But she believes that their performance should come hand in hand with academics.
In Uganda, there is currently no specific policy that would cater for the welfare of upcoming talent, let alone athletes. That is probably why it was only John Akii Bua who brought Uganda’s only Gold medal during the Olympic games in Germany in 1972.
”It is our challenge to help these young ones and I am calling upon district officials to come by our side, to help us where necessary,” Awal says.
The athletes train during their holidays and the 10 girls in that camp all aim to achieve something from their talents. They still lack the basics including running shoes and gear, some of which MTTB has promised to provide.
Awal spends some time with the ladies and advises them on issues about HIV/Aids, STDs and unwanted pregnancies. ”I always warn them and counsel them to be careful with their bodies, not to get tempted and concentrate on academics and athletics because that (sexual relationships) is what could let them down,” she says.
The girls listen attentively. They all want to be stars and will do anything it takes to get there.
However, she explains, many men in the villages always have an urge to get married to the young athletes so that they could get athletic children. ”And that is how their talent gets wasted because that way, the girls become mothers and stop running,” she regrets.
The Secretary for Education and Sports in the district, Adoli Owok Alfred, said there is still lack of exposure as far as building talent is concerned. ”A number of our young athletes lack exposure. Another area of challenge is lack of sensitisation even for us the leaders. The people need to be sensitised to know that there is something good in sports,” he says.
He explains that many parents have the ideology that their children should become doctors and engineers but not sports people, thus do not support them.
But he does not forget to appeal to the athletes about the issues that affect Africa the most; the HIV/Aids problem. ”But the greatest challenge is the effect of HIV/Aids. I would like to give a piece of advice to young athletes. Whenever you go onto the field and win a race, you begin to look so beautiful, so handsome and everybody wants to take you away. Be aware of Aids,” he warns.
But as long as Dorcus keeps on the tracks and uses her talent to build her future and take the HIV/Aids advice seriously, she may have a chance that the attainment of her dream will not be marred by an early and forced marriage.
Evelyn Kiapi Matsamura
LIRA, Sep 25 2003 (IPS) - Dorcus Apecu is a primary seven schoolgirl who keeps her fingers crossed. She is praying that her mother does not take her out of school and get her married due to lack of school fees.
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