Even in his old age, smartly dressed in a striped suit, a matching tie and a hat over his head, he frequented Kapchorwa District administration offices, talking to each senior civil servant he came across. This, perhaps, said a thousand words about his lifetime and the service he offered to Sebei. But that will be no more. George William Cheborion, the chairperson of the Sabiny Elders Association, and the man who championed the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), breathed his last on Sunday in Mbale hospital. He was 84.
Cheborion was said to be a role model to his family, and was credited for hosting community leaders and remaining relevant to the Sabiny despite retiring from civil service in 1987.
Beatrice Chelangat, the managing director of REACH programme which is at the forefront in the fight against FGM, has no particular superlatives to describe Cheborion.
“I don’t know what to say. He was a father, role model and excellent workmate. He helped us in the fight against FGM and his advice has been the best. He was a great worker,” Chelangat says.
Cheborion’s son Pat Cheborion, the acting assistant commissioner for immigration, echoes Chelangat’s gratitude.
A disciplinarian father
“My father was a very strict man. He cherished education and hard work. When we were young, he encouraged us to walk to school instead of waiting for his car because he wanted us to work harder and succeed in life,” Pat says.
Barishaki Bonny Cheborion, the director of litigation at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, describes his father as a very principled man who fought hard to achieve whatever he dreamt of.
“My father fought for the rights of the girl child whilst respecting culture. He was also a very strong politician who respected his opponents’ opinion,” Barishaki says.
In his biography, Cheborion lists many achievements; most notable among them is when the Sabiny Elders Association won the UN Population award in 1998 in New York.
“I am declaring and clearly confirming through this document that I am appreciating the services being rendered by the UN and for making these arrangements possible to take place which enabled us win this and for initiating direct offers to us the winners and from Uganda and from Jamaica,” Cheborion said soon after winning the award in New York. His group was given a cash prize of $125,000 which was used to construct the Sabiny Elders Association offices in Kapchorwa.
Born to Andrew and Mirieri Myokos on November 24, 1928 in Kapkwirwok Parish, Sipi in Kapchorwa District, Cheborion went to Sipi Church of Uganda Primary School from 1938 to 1945, joined Nabumali High School from 1946 to 1949 and enrolled at Buwalasi Teachers Training College Primary School from 1950 to 1952.
Having been trained as a teacher, Cheborion’s leadership abilities started to show on January 1, 1953, when he was appointed as a Grade II teacher. He was the only qualified Grade II teacher in Sebei then, as there were no schools then, owing to bad roads and negative perception of the colonial government by the Sabiny. Cheborion was thus posted to Kibuku Primary School in Budaka District, then under Bugwere District.
In 1955, the year in which he married his first sweetheart Florence Cheborion, he was transferred to Bukwo Church of Uganda Primary School, now Amanang Primary School. While here, Cheborion stretched his hand beyond what the community held for girls. He decided to admit girls in the primary school in a bid to promote girl child education.
Educating girls was a signal that one day, Cheborion would also fight for their freedom from circumcision. Cheborion was promoted to head the school a year later in 1956; a position he held until 1960 when he was posted to Kokwomurya Primary School.
A champion for Sebei
In the same year, he was elected to the Sebei County Council in Bugisu District. By then, Sebei was under Bugisu. When he led the council in 1957, he together with Yovan M. Chemonges pushed for the separation of Sebei from Bugisu. Cheborion also helped secure funds to establish Sebei College Tegeres after consultation with Sabiny elders and Governor Andrew Cohen.
Because of the leadership exhibited, the powers that be took him to Nsamizi Community Institute for a two-month induction course. This was aimed at preparing him to give a shot at the parliamentary seat for Sebei County. But in his biography, he says he declined to vie for the seat because: “Y.M. Chemonges was the MP. I saw no reason why I should contest and interrupt him because he was my immediate friend. I therefore rejected the idea of contesting against him…”
By independence in 1962, Cheborion whose group had made Kapchorwa a district in February 1962, was appointed as the Treasurer of Kapchorwa. He served in the position for 20 years before he was promoted to head the technical wing as the Chief Administrative Officer. He would retire in 1987 after establishing Kween, Suam, Kabei, Chesower, Binyiny, Kaserem and Bukwo sub-counties. He had also helped set up coffee cooperative societies.
Such is the life of the servant who apart from Florence, also married Imelda, Zelda, and Margaret. He is survived by 29 children, 61 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
He will be laid to rest today at his ancestral home in Kapkwirwok, Sipi Sub-county, Kapchorwa.