A year ago, Evelyn Apio, never imagined she would overcome the challenge of drug addiction. Drugs had virtually eaten up her life, from dropping out of school to engaging in endless public fights.
Ten years of taking marijuana daily had become her lifestyle, but she did not know drugs would be detrimental to her future.
According to Apio, what started with one puff in Senior One in 2009 later, it became a habit, which ruined her education and got her expelled from school.
Using a forged report card after the expulsion, she managed to get herself enrolled in another secondary school. But because it was a day school, she carried on with drugs and performed relatively well in O-Level examinations. She would later drop out of school.
Despite the past addiction, Apio is trying to rebuild her life. She is among 70 former school children in Kaberamaido, who are slowly being rehabilitated into a life free of drugs .
Through small enterprise initiative of making liquid soap and other small businesses, Florence Ringe, the executive director of Prince of Peace Orphans and Widows Vision (POPOW) is giving hope to vunerable women in Kaberamaido District.
“She picked me up together with other drugs addicts, counselled us, and initiated us into income generating initiatives. I have learnt how to make liquid soap for a living,” Apio says.
Ringe, through her community based organisation offers scholarships to vulnerable children and advocates for free gender based violence society. She also counsels former drug addicts, contructs improved pit latrines for schools, offers reusable sanitary pads and maintains community water sources.
For Ringe, the commitment to create change in her society, is something she learnt when she was growing up. “Our home was open to all people. As children, we mixed freely with all people irrespective of their background. Our parents taught us to love and I am applying the same values I learnt,” she says.
Raised in a humble family, Ringe says the poor living conditions of people in Kaberamaido and Kalaki districts motivated her to start a project that would care for the underprivileged.
In 2014, when she went to spend Christmas with her parents in the village, she saw people drawing dirty water from a well where animals drunk water from. At that point, she made up her mind to quit her well-paying job to move back to the community in to transform lives.
“For the last five years, I have supported people to have access to clean, safe water. I have also managed to enroll more than 20 youth in medical courses who had lost hope of attaining education.”
With funding from her friends, Ringe has also rehabilitated 70 boreholes, seven spring wells, 31 drainable pit-latrines in 19 schools to support girls, especially during menstruation.
Since 2015, Ringe has also extended micro-credit startup capital to 97 women group- groups comprising of single, widows, who strive to eke a living for their families.
Among the beneficiaries of Ringe’s vision is Lazarus Elora, 24. After failing to enrol for A-Level, his future had almost hit a dead end. As luck would have it, he was given a scholarship to enrol for a nursing course.
“In 2017, I dropped out of school because there were no school fees. But a Good Samaritan referred me to Ringe. She is currently paying my tuition and accommodation fees. I thank God for her,” he says.
He is currently volunteering at Kaberamaido District hospital, where he is practicing as a nurse. “I look forward following Ringe’s footsteps,” he says.
Norah Igeto is another beneficiary, who has been supported to undertake a fashion and design course at an institute in Wadegeya, Kampala.
Born in a polygamous family, Igeto’s chances of continuing with school were minimal. Like Elora, her luck to enrol for a vocational course was answered by Ringe.
With only one semester left to complete her course, she hopes to start a business. “I would perhaps be married with six children by now if I was not given an opportunity to stay in school,” says Igeto.
Shaban Alunga, the head teacher for Okapel Primary School in Aperikila Sub-county says: “This development is in 19 schools in Kaberamaido. She has devoted her life to uplifting the vulnerable people and we applaud her selflessness.”
Ringe says her next goal is to rid Kaberamaido of child marriages, and supporting local people to access clean and safe water.