Angelo Lagu - A tribute
07 December 2012

The Late Angelo Lagu, JRS South Sudan Country Director
I have always appreciated the fact that right from the beginning, JRS believed that capacity building for the refugees should be carried out at all levels.
Education: An Instrument of Development*
By Angelo Lagu

I was born in Loa in 1963, during the First Sudanese Civil War (1955-72) and I was only two years old when my family fled to Uganda. For two months we stayed in a refugee camp in the present Pader District before we were allocated land and moved to Apac District. In 1973, after the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement we were repatriated to Sudan.

I had started my primary education in Uganda and was able to complete it back in Sudan. After I finished secondary school in 1980 I started working part time as a volunteer chemistry teacher in Loa intermediate school. Later, I moved to the secondary school and worked there for three years. I was financially supported by the parents. In 1984 I was hired as a supplementary teacher in Loa intermediate school and for the first time received a salary, paid by UNHCR for another three years. Half of the student population were Ugandan refugees who were living in camps in Southern Sudan at that time.

In 1987 fighting in Southern Sudan intensified to an extent that all schools were closed. I continued teaching at a nursery school in Loa, which was the only school still operating, for another two years but in March 1989 the deteriorating circumstances forced us to flee to Uganda. Again, we lived in a camp, this time in Alere II in Adjumani District. It was a painful situation and it was difficult to leave everything behind. But it did not take long for us to adjust because there was no movement restriction, Ugandans in that part speak the same language and we felt welcomed. In fact, Ugandan and Sudanese refugees had been moving back and forth in the two countries due to ongoing conflicts.

Still, one of the biggest problems was the distribution of land. Due to the insecurity caused by the Lord's Resistance Army, accessing fertile land had become extremely difficult. The refugee community was restricted to cultivate land that was either not arable or too small, so most of us opted to befriend Ugandans who would 'lend' us part of their land during our time in exile.

The first schools are set up

There was no school when we arrived in Alere but like in many other camps at that time the refugees initiated a primary schooI and I was part of it both as a parent and a teacher. We started with 800 students and approximately 24 teachers. Since we had no resources to enable continuous learning, teachers used books they brought from Sudan or borrowed books from Ugandan schools. None of the teachers received a salary. In 1991 UNHCR started distributing food to teachers to motivate them. As a token of appreciation a few teachers were also given an allowance and some of the schools were provided with textbooks. A year later, the Diocese of Torit stepped in and also supported a number of teachers by paying them incentives. Eventually, in 1992 JRS assessed the situation and started implementing its educational programme in 1993.

At first JRS introduced incentives for teachers and provided scholastic materials for the schools. It soon extended its intervention and started training teachers, focusing on in-service training first to fill the educational gaps of untrained teachers who differed strongly in their levels of education. In 1993 and 1994 JRS introduced a monthly competency test for all teachers to identify their education levels and competency. We were rewarded with an increase in our incentive according to the grades attained.

Like many of the teachers I had lost all my documents and O-Level certificates during the flight. JRS negotiated successfully with the Ugandan government and for three years teachers were granted the opportunity to sit for the National Competency Examination (NCE) in order to gain recognition for our O-level education. Those who passed had their O-Levels officially recognised and could go on for tertiary training. I passed the NCE with distinction and with the help of a scholarship from JRS was able to enroll for a two years teacher training course at the Primary Teachers College in Gulu.

With my newly acquired Certificate in Education I went back to the camp where I continued teaching in Alere II primary school, now as a qualified teacher. In 1996 I became headmaster and administered the school until 2000.'

In 1998 I was granted another scholarship from JRS for a three year in-service Diploma course at the National Teachers College Unyama in Gulu. The training was intense and challenging but the exposure to teaching and administration made studies easier. Luckily, many teachers were able to attend that course thanks to the JRS scholarships. After I had finished the course I was transferred to Keyo 1 primary school where I was immediately appointed headteacher. According to the government policy of integrating schools initiated by refugees into the national education system, Keyo 1 was soon handed over to the Ugandan government which brought in a national headteacher who was paid by the government. For the last two years of my teaching career I returned to Alere II and Robidire where I worked as deputy headmaster and headteacher respectively.

Working for JRS

In May 2003, I joined JRS as the primary school assistant. It was within my responsibility to supervise the learning and teaching process in the over 30 primary schools in Adjumani. A year later, I was assigned the same role for the 15 primary schools in Moyo. All schools in Moyo were handed over to the government in 2004 and I was promoted to be the assistant primary school supervisor for Adjumani, mainly concentrating in the human resources and administration areas. In 2007 I was again promoted to be the primary school supervisor, now mainly working from the JRS office. I had to deal with incentives for teachers, school policies and school supplies and I closely collaborated with the school management group and liaised with the District Education Office.

Within the JRS staff development programme I had the opportunity to obtain a degree from the Uganda Martyrs University after taking part in an in-service distance learning programme from 2004-2007. In October 2007 when JRS initiated its exit I was the primary and secondary school coordinator with the overall responsibility for the remaining 28 primary and five secondary schools. And ten months later, in August 2008 I became the last project director of JRS in Adjumani and ensured a smooth exit and closure in December 2008 which included organising the final celebration.

I have always appreciated the fact that right from the beginning, JRS believed that capacity building for the refugees should be carried out at all levels. By doing so JRS acknowledged that we are part of a process of development which would eventually lead to a better future for our country, Southern Sudan. In December 2008, I finally returned to Southern Sudan and soon will be joined by my wife and three children after twenty years in exile. I am happy to be at home again even though many basic services are not provided and the community initiated schools still need a lot of support which our young government is not yet able to give. I am now the assistant project director for JRS in Nimule, near my home. Through our work here we support and build the capacity of teachers, parents and government officials in the area of education. It is not always easy to change people's attitudes which have been affected by the long war but we are trying everything possible and there is a clear sign that they are interested in education.

The support I have received through JRS over all these years in exile has made me what I am today. Because of the education I have received I am now able to manage my life and my future lies bright before me. Like me many who came to Uganda untrained are now trained and a big workforce which has been educated by JRS has gone back to Southern Sudan to take an active role in building up the country. Most families are now aware of the value of education knowing that it is not only part of an emergency response like any other service but clearly an instrument of development.

* This article was published in the JRS Eastern Africa newsletter Issue no. 46, April 2009

Mr. Angelo Lagu joined JRS in Adjumani in 2003 as Primary Education Assistant. Before then, he was the Head-teacher of one of the JRS supported schools in Adjumani. He then became the Primary Coordinator then in 2008, he was appointed the Project Director of JRS Adjumani and supervised the successful closure of the project. After Adjumani, he moved to Nimule as Assistant Project Director for JRS Nimule and later became Project Director in 2010. In June 2010, he was appointed the Country Director for JRS South Sudan, a position he was holding until his fateful death.

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