Okello Kelo Sam was abducted at 16 and made part of the Ugandan National Liberation Army, later known as the Lord's Resistance Army.
"When I was 16, I was abducted and became a child soldier," said the native of Uganda who is in the Okanagan as part of Global
Sam was held captive for a
year and a half by the Ugandan National Liberation Army, a group that would later be known as the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Koni.
Uganda has had many wars," Sam said. "The concept of using child soldiers in Uganda has been around for many years."
Sam survived his forced servitude, but a decade later his 13-year-old brother was taken against his will to fight, and die, in another Ugandan war.
Throughout his time with the UNLA, Sam knew getting an education was vital to his future. During a pitched battle, he fled his captors only to find his family had dispersed amid the chaos of civil war. Eventually, he went to live with an uncle and did any odd job he could find to continue his education.
"In 1998, there was a massacre in my village. The LRA killed more than 300 people," said Sam.
Out of that atrocity was born a desire in Sam to change his
country, and Hope North Uganda was born.
Sam established Hope North in an area where the rebellion would not reach the orphans and former child soldiers under his care.
"To date, we have been able to support 3,000 children," he said.
Hope North is an accredited secondary school located on a 40-acre campus with an international arts centre, vocational training and a working farm, and is staffed by 26 dedicated Ugandan educators.
Sam believes education is the key to stopping the cycle of violence in so many African nations.
"The challenge of Africa is literacy. People need a quality education. That will enable them to transform their communities, their country."
"As a former child soldier, I take education seriously because most of the wars in Africa come from manipulation, and if people have knowledge it will be harder to manipulate them."
Sam said there are many organizations Canadians can support to help provide that much-needed education.
Hope North Uganda and Niteo Africa are just two African organizations that are working toward caring for and educating the lost children of Africa.
Many-faith based organizations are also active in Africa and if possible, Sam urges people to see Africa for themselves.
There is nothing as important as having a one-to-one experience, so you can appreciate the circumstances," he said.
As part of Global Citizen Kelowna, Sam will be speaking at Trinity Baptist Church on Monday at 7 p.m.
For more information on Hope North, go to www.hopenorth.org.