Ugandan entrepreneur Beatrice Ayuru said her dream of providing a quality education for girls, who are often denied this basic right, has become a reality for thousands. But, she said advancing the cause of universal education is far from over.
Aruyu spoke with VOA before she addressed an overflow audience as one of a select group of speakers at a prestigious TEDx event. She recounted the difficulties she has encountered in establishing the Lira Integrated School for under-served students in a remote area of northern Uganda.
At age 43, Ayuru has achieved more than most people in an entire lifetime.
She has racked up an enviable list of awards and accolades from within Uganda and abroad. In 2010, Ayuru won first prize in the Women in Business Award given by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development to women who excel in developing innovative business ideas that serve their communities.
Long road to school
Her TEDx speech, entitled “From Cassavas to Classrooms,” described the long road she has traveled to achieve her dream: building a school where girls could get the quality education normally denied them.
Ayuru grew up in Lira, a largely impoverished rural region in northern Uganda.
She is one of 16 children, born into a well-off polygamous family. She was lucky to have had a father who valued education and supported her in her quest.
But, she said everything else - the poverty and cultural barriers that demean women in her society - worked against her ambition.
“I would say the environment shaped me a lot. ... Even when I felt I was going through hard moments, but other girls were worse than me. They were forced into early marriages. They were not given opportunity to be in school. It was a very painful life," Aruyu said.
When she was 19, Aruyu's father gave her a parcel of land upon which to build her school. She was broke, and she had just become the mother of the second of her six children when she started this venture.
Aruyu said it was the need to support her children that drove her ambition.
Despite these handicaps, she graduated from high school and became the first student from her school to gain admission to a national university. She began teaching after graduating from Makerere University.
Business ventures aid dream
At the same time, she launched several business ventures to acquire the money to pursue her dream.
“I realized what I had was land. I am already teaching, but I am not earning salary, so I started with planting cassava," Aruyu said. "That was all I could afford using my energy because I could not employ people to do anything or get capital to begin a business.”
She then started two other side businesses. Earnings from these ventures allowed her to open Lira Integrated School in 2000.
At that time, the militant Lord’s Resistance Army was causing havoc in northern Uganda. It was terrorizing the population through murder, torture and the widespread abduction of children. Ayuru said this caused enrollment in her school to drop.
“During the war, we would always run with the children from school to the town to hide them. Then, during the day we collected them from town again to come and have lessons," she said.
A vanquished LRA fled north Uganda in 2007. Ayuru’s school has thrived ever since.
Lira school facts
The school teaches 1,500 students from nursery through high school. Tuition is about $90 a year; a prohibitive fee for many parents.
The school subsidizes 100 children who cannot afford to pay, but show promise.
The school accepts both girls and boys. Ayuru said having a mixed-gender school is important because boys learn to respect and appreciate the talents of the girls when they see what their female classmates can accomplish.
In 2009, she broke ground to build a university. Ayuru said she is getting closer to the realization of her dream.