Monday, October 17, 2011

Dreams for Girls

by Beatrice Lamwaka

For young girls in Uganda, education is a health issue. Secondary school fees can burden families and children. Many girls turn to transactional sex in order to pay for their education. This puts them at risk for HIV/AIDS, young marriage and pregnancy. And perhaps most harmful of all: hopelessness.
Uganda Village Project’s scholarship program gives them more than financial support; it is a light to write by and learn by, to read by and to tell their stories in its glow. These are the stories of girls who one day will be strong and hopeful Ugandan women. Their dreams will nourish Uganda. Like Ruth Nakiwate, one of the many girls UVP supports, I dreamed of writing stories.
Many years ago when I was a little girl, in Alokolum Village, Gulu district, listening to my mother and father tell folktales, it never occurred to me that one day I would be writing my stories and share it with the world. I am now able reach an audience which my father and mother never attained. Something that was beyond my dream as a young girl but now it seems possible and I am enjoying the process of writing and the benefits. Getting on the shortlist for the Caine Prize for African Writing, the most prestigious prize in Africa has opened my door to the world. I hope and pray that I will be able to reach more people around the world with my writing and serve to inspire girls like Ruth to reach their potential. The United Kingdom was on my list of countries to visit and it came true as a result of my writing. I was able to read my work and have lunches with people that even in my dreams it could never happen.
After reading a number of books, some in Acholi, I dreamed of writing stories. My dream came true when I joined Uganda Women Writers Association (FEMRITE) in 1999, an organization that promotes and publishes women writers in Uganda. Most of the women are now my best friends, we share dreams, motivate each one to write, cry on each other shoulders, critique each other’s writing, have inspired me to go on with writing and they make it seem like it is possible to make our stories heard and that there was nothing in the world that we couldn’t get if we wanted. It is possible to make the voices of women and girls heard and it comes through active support and faith in each other. The girls who need that support now will someday be the ones providing the light.
I have been involved in a number of creative writing workshops organized by FEMRITE; with this I met established writers and those who shared my dreams. As I met other writers I realized that every writer was working hard in order to get where they were and I too needed to work hard so that I would achieve my dreams. The journey of writing has not been easy but the success made has erased every tear. In 2009, I was shortlisted for the South African PEN/Studzinski literary award, it made me realized that I was in the right direction with my life, but the 2011 Caine Prize shortlist has given me the confidence that I will be the writer that I want to be or the writer that I always dreamt of being.

Whatever a Ugandan girl dreams, whatever her aspirations, educational support is the pathway to reaching her goal. For her health, her well-being, and her place in Uganda and indeed the world, every girl deserves the chance to realize the dream.
Everything starts with a little step as long as you always have your eyes on the prize, you will get there. Each day, I wake up and I know that I am a writer and I need to work hard so that I can tell more stories and in the end inspire young Ugandans to tell their own.

Beatrice Lamwaka was shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing for her story "Butterfly Dreams."