In Part XV of Project Success, which resumes after a break enforced by extensive coverage of recent breaking stories like the Bududa landslides and the Kasubi fire, we track down Dr William Ofuti Worodria, Uganda’s third best O-Level student of 1985. He tells his story to Tabu Butagira
Nothing in his early childhood pointed to exceptional talent. It was growing up in a modest rural home, running errands on village paths with stick in hand to clear morning dew on overlapping grass.
Worse in adolescent years, unending sicknesses battered now Dr William Ofuti Worodri, sapping his vigour for teenage life and associated impish exploits. But a few weeks ago, Dr Worodria, 44, strolled towards me on the ramp of the main entrance to Mulago Hospital with confident steps of a consultant physician who has been at the national referral hospital since 2000.
This was prime time to hollow out history made some 25 years ago amid limitless hamstrings. Like other pupils, teachers made Worodria uproot spear-grass for thatching staff houses; fetch water and do their garden. After gathering 221 of a maximum 300 marks, wars were to butt-in Worodria’s secondary school studies for three years.
He had taken his primary leaving examinations at Bongova PS in Vurra County of the northwestern Arua District in 1978.
Barely two weeks after joining St. Charles Lwanga Koboko SS, Worodria was among students forced home by the liberation war that kicked out former President Idi Amin.
Amin hailed from West Nile. His precise origin was roughly traced among the Kakwa, the predominant ethnic group in Koboko that borders south Sudan. As such the victorious Uganda National Liberation Front/Army brutalised the population to avenge the late dictator’s alleged misdeeds, driving nearly half a million people in the region into exile. Subsequent guerilla bursts were to paralyse school activities in West Nile, keeping Worodria at home until 1982. That year, he was lucky to enroll at St. Joseph’s College Ombaci, a better school, some 4 kilometres north of Arua town.
The ominous conspiracy of fate clung to him, offering thin health. In fact Worodria’s life was hanging on the cliff edge. Chronic illnesses, by his own accounts, weakened him so terribly.
During the second term of Senior One, the school principal, Fr. Mich (RIP), sought to expel him on health grounds and absenteeism – teenager Worodria spent three of every five week days at Ediofe Dispensary, seeking treatment.
Yet he reported to school at least a fortnight late every new term because his parents never had cash at hand to pay for his tuition.
“When the principal checked my records, he found I was the best in the class both during the first and second terms,” he said.
A genius could not be kicked out unceremoniously. He required counselling, if not preferential treatment. Thus the school head hurriedly contacted Sister Paula, then a senior nursing officer at Ediofe Dispensary, who gave some medication that the principal personally administered. And it worked magically.
Freed from the shackles of ill-health, Dr Worodria cracked through a financial squeeze and results he posted in subsequent years flagged his exceptional innate flair.
Four years later, in 1985, former Radio Uganda - in its bygone famed days as a national broadcaster - publicised Worodria’s name as the 3rd best O-level student in Uganda.
Those years, people crowded around a radio to listen for the name of the best P7, Senior Four and Six performers whenever results of national examinations were released. So an entire village knew whose son or daughter was in the league of academic crème de la crème.
“It was satisfying,” Dr Worodria says of hearing his name over the radio. More exciting, St. Joseph’s College Ombaci where he sat his papers that year produced three of top ten best students countrywide. Accomplished engineers; Patrick Okuni and Joel Ogarubo emerged 1st and 8th, respectively in the national ranking.
Parents in Kampala rushed their children to Ombaci and some of the children landed in the football pitch by helicopters. Neighbours gathered sightseeing the power and wonders of formal education. It was a slim chance, and glowing one, for local students to get a slot at the college that set prohibitive cut-off mark and charged high tuition.
Worodria made a comeback to Ombaci for his A-level studies and took a Physics, Chemistry and Biology subjects’ combination; eying to become doctor.
He was bodily fit. But if wars that chained him home annoyed, the distress of resulting physical ruins was yet to confront the tested student.
The science laboratories had been vandalised. The Biology teacher quit for a better-paying job and Chemistry lessons were “sporadic”. General Paper was never taught and only Mr Nelson Ozimati endured to handle Physics.
“We had to go in the villages and dig and trap the rats and catch frogs in valleys and bring them to the lab to use for Biology practicals,” says Mr Worodria, “Yet in the end, all Biology students in our set scored principal passes.”
The determination among that breed of students may be an uncommon virtue today but Dr Worodria, inspired by his predecessors and late father Edward Bajole Ofuti, is straight on how students can get it right.
“Where there is a will, there is a way...if students put in extra effort through team work and make the most use of available facilities, they can succeed,” counsels Dr Worodria now pursuing a PhD degree in Medicine (HIV/TB Care), at Antwerp University in Belgium.
The teamwork thing after all enabled him press the buttons of success in A-level and after years. He scored As in Physics and Biology and scored a B in Chemistry (with a D1 in Subsidiary Mathematic and C5 in GP), gathering in excess of points required to enlist for his treasured Bachelor of Medicine/Surgery course at Makerere University in October 1998. Having lived in Kampala only as an infant, a return to the city was both exciting and challenging. Dr Worodria began his education at Kitante Primary School and at the time, his father Ofuti had worked as a Laboratory Technologist at Mulago Hospital.
He was a strict disciplinarian and the tight control brought Dr Worodria some lessons and dividends in adult life. As a high-flying A-level performer, then Mr Worodria each term pocketed a special stipend – a government bonus for A scores - from the Dean’s office; healing his financial blues. There was, however, an odd that erupted on another front.
“Makerere was pretty tough, new environment; my course mates came from better endowed schools and were more exposed,” he says thoughtfully, “We had a group of students who preferred to speak in Luganda during dissection sessions in our First Year lessons on Human Anatomy and I was completely lost and felt like an outsider.”
But a man who sailed through the rough waters of wars, debilitating sickness and biting poverty had sufficient resilience to withstand discrimination. In the end, Dr Worodria, by sticking to the virtuous of “honesty, truthfulness and hard work” managed to placate and network with some of the indifferent characters.
After leaving university in 1993, he worked as an intern at Nsambya Hospital that same year before he joined Maracha Missionary Hospital as a medical officer between 1994 and 1997.
His simplicity, professionalism and affable nature have impressed his supervisors and juniors alike.
“What I know is that he (Dr Worodria) has been a disciplined student, obedient, ethical and a time-keeper,” says Dr Okot Nwang, a mentor.
Dr Worodria, who holds a Masters degree in Internal Medicine (Makerere), says he’s professionally more fulfilled by grooming health workers through teaching medical students, supervising interns and mentoring young doctors.
Ms Evelyn Candiru is the woman in his life and the couple has three children.
**Editor’s Note: Project Success will run every Monday