The Youngest First Grader

Joel Cooper | April 14, 2014

Photo: Joel Cooper/CWS

Photo: Joel Cooper/CWS

After nine months relaxing in the cushioned comfort of his mother’s womb, baby Namoki now spends his days quietly sleeping on the divoted concrete floor in the back of his older brother’s classroom at Lokiding Primary School.

Karamojongs like Namoki have it rough from day one.

What would be considered neglect in the West is necessary for survival in Africa. In this area of Northeast Uganda, progressing though school is not a typical right of passage. CWS staff speculates that only around 20 percent of children here attend. Namoki’s older brother, Kapel Namuya, has to take his little brother with him to attend school. Fathers are occupied herding livestock, and mothers are busy crop farming, getting water, cooking and doing everything else, so traditionally much of the responsibility of child rearing falls on older siblings.

The earliest memory I have of my academic life is not staring at a blackboard, but on my school playground encircled by Indiana cornfields with my best friend, Jahan. I made my first Asian friend at school. I made my first black friend at school. I made my first deaf friend, Muslim friend, gay friend, and Latino friend – all at school. With youthful ignorance of the enmity culture gradually seeks to ingrain, we befriend those whom society demeans and are able to discover discrimination’s stupidity in more of a personal and meaningful way than by merely glossing over the civil rights movement in history class. School has not only increased my knowledge of academic subjects, it has made me less of a bigot.

For many years, Karamoja has been affected by violence among different sexes, villages, tribes and militias, including Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Bringing children of different groups together at school is helping diffuse social tension as they build friendships with kids they would not have otherwise encountered. By supporting Lokiding and other area schools, CWS is encouraging tolerance to increase security in Karamoja so little Namoki can continue to sleep soundly for years to come.

Learn more about CWS Africa School Safe Zones.

Joel Cooper, communications intern, CWS Africa