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How Okere City Initiative is Changing Lives in Otuke

Donnas Ojok- Okello, an Economics graduate, and development expert is the brain behind the Okere City Initiative, which he started in Okere Mom- Kok “a baby should not cry” his ancestral home village.
Classroom block at Okere city

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It's 11 am.  It is a beehive of activities at Okere Mom- Kok village in Okere Parish in Adwari Sub-county Otuke District. Voices of little children repeating the letters of the alphabet can be heard from a distance.

Community members especially men are busy constructing more classroom blocks and guests houses while women are busy preparing shea butter- a social activity graced with traditional songs and tales passed on from generation to generation.

This is the daily life in Okere City, a community-driven development project geared towards the elimination of poverty and promotion of education in Okere Parish, Adwari Sub-county, Otuke District. The carefully crafted grass-thatched houses amidst planted trees give the city its beautiful green scenery.

The city, which sits on a 500- acre piece of land began in 2019 at the time when the community members were disgruntled due to a lack of basic necessities like clean water sources. The nearest primary school and health center were about 10kms away. Donnas Ojok- Okello, an Economics graduate, and development expert is the brain behind the Okere City Initiative, which he started in Okere Mom- Kok “a baby should not cry” his ancestral home village. 

The idea is meant to transform the area, which was ravaged by the over 20 years of the LRA insurgency into a green town where community members are responsible for the growth and development of their area putting education, health, social enterprises, and the protection of the shea tree at the center.

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The city, which is solar-powered now has an Early Childhood Development Center, a primary school, a clinic, a village bank with 600 members, and a community hall that also serves as a cinema, church, and nightclub.   All these activities are facilitated and managed by community members as a way of encouraging community participation in rural development. However, there are limits to what local members can contribute especially when it comes to finances, according to Ojok.

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Parents also realized the importance of education for themselves and their children and as such brought the idea of adult learning in a District, whose illiteracy level stands at 72%. Close to 100 members who have registered for adult classes and have been learning since October last year are mostly elders of 50 years and above with a few young mothers.

“Remember the 72% illiteracy rate is among the adult population so if we do not make sure that our grandparents, our mothers, our fathers can read and write and comprehend certain things then life is continually going to be horrible because there is no way an illiterate person can take pride and invest in educating their children, says Ojok.

These people had never set foot in class but with a few months of receiving basic knowledge in reading and writing, they are able to not only successfully run their village saving groups but also start up income-generating activities.

Scovia Abwongo is a member of the Okere City community. She never had a chance to go to school although she wanted to. Abwongo then invested her energy in educating her 3 children thinking she would achieve her dreams through her children. But then an opportunity presented itself at Okere City where she is learning with a big dream of becoming a teacher someday.

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Jennifer Ogwang, another member of the FAL class, says that domestic chores such as rearing cattle, babysitting, and cooking for the family stopped her from going to school in her early years. However, she is excited that from the FAL classes she now can read, write and successfully count money. Her hope is to start up a business and become a local councilor in the near future.

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The fact that most members of the adult classes are women gives Ojok the conviction that children will be educated because their mothers know the value of education.

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David Apule, a security guard at Okere city is excited about adult learning to the point that he would love to join their class despite having traveled places and knowing basic English words. 

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Okere Village Bank is the engine upon, which the city ensures financial inclusion through the already existing local Village Saving Groups (VSLA). The Village Bank provides loans to the VSLA who interim gives it to its members to enable them to grow small businesses.   Maxwell Atine, a community member is happy with the Okere City initiative because it is not only providing services to them but also giving the community members an opportunity to learn new ideas like afforestation. 

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On the other hand, there is Okere shea butter, a product which came on the market in August 2020. Shea trees that grow naturally in Okere village are one of the trees on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) red list of species on the verge of extinction. But Okere has started a cooperative society of 120 members to fuel the conservation of shea trees and the City’s shea business activities.

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On special occasions, mostly weekends, Okere city organizes community tourism trips featuring the traditional Okeme dance, shea butter massage, poetry, and tales among others. Prof. Opio Okaka Dokotum, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Lira University spent his weekend at Okere city during one of the Tourism trips where he had his first every shea butter massage.

“I enjoyed my first shea butter massage from the professional masseur at Okere city. I had no idea shea oil was the best for massage. Tin anino bala okere! (today I will sleep like a baby),” he wrote on the Lango Tourism conference forum. The dream for Okere city is to have a modle village where individuals and governments can learn from especially now that Government is implementing the Parish Development Module.

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Betty Amongi Akena, the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development is satisfied with the Okere City project in regard to the implementation of the Parish Development Modle and tasked Ojok Okello with the responsibility of training Trainers for the program.

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