Last Updated on: 31st December 2022, 02:27 pm
In this edition of TNDQuestions, I am joined by a retired teacher who taught for 35 years. This elder, Oduch-Okall John Peter authored “Okelo Twon Icoo” and taught in a number of schools among them Minakulu Technical Institute in Oyam South.
Now retired, although not tired, John Peter tells Milton Emmy Akwam about his journey from childhood, the books he authored, and more.
Mzee, it is a privilege to have you. Could you tell us how it has been for decades and how you feel at 77 years now?
John: As a profession, I started teaching in the early seventies. The life of work deteriorated, worse of all with the teaching profession. People left and joined other professions, but I stuck on and here I am retired but still walking fit.
Q. What have you learned until now, and do you think the current generation is moving in the right direction?
John: Until now, I have learnt a lot about life. First, one should be patient and tolerant of one’s life whether social or economic. A lot of these virtues are demanding and expected of the current generation. Many of the youth are moving at a loss both socially and economically. The youth want to have an idea of being at height and status, socially and financially fit within a short period of age.
Q. You taught English. Do you have memories of how your class was back then, and could you list some of the students you taught (English)?
John: Teaching a language is demanding because you must live it and be it. In addition, I must be an admirer of the language and the people who speak it. My class has been respectful, jolly, and entertaining. There are many students whom I taught at different levels of schools and institutions of learning. Some of them include; Dr Laury Lawrence Ocen, Okucu Anthony (district engineer-Lira district), Owani Moses (engineer Dokolo district) and Retired ASP Alia Romano, among others. Most of my former students do recognize and are proud of me.
Q. How was teachers’ remuneration at the time you were active and what is the government getting wrong today in paying teachers better? Do art teachers have a right to complain?
John: I started teaching when the remuneration was attractive and good. The payment was made in the East African currency which was much stronger compared to the currency we have now. The highest banknote was a hundred shillings which could buy a heifer unlike a hundred shillings informed of a coin we have now that can only earn you a sweet. It is good that science teachers should be remunerated well but not at the expense of art teachers. It would be great to pay science teachers allowances for their research made and any other scientific task achieved. All teachers should be treated equally and paid the same.
Q. You taught at Uganda Technical College (UTC) Lira and retired from Minakulu Technical Institute. Technical or vocational studies seem not to be a hot deal unlike in the past. Tell us what you think about the future of vocational studies in Uganda.
John: It is the opposite that technical or vocational studies are becoming a hot deal not unlike in the past when people opted for white colour jobs in offices. Parents and students have realized that vocational skills open ways for self-employment. The colonial masters encouraged theories at the expense of practical skills hence many people found themselves in offices. Am glad the government has opened many vocational schools and supports them.
Q. You are one of the pioneer writers and you have read a lot of books. Before we talk about the books you have written, which are some of the books you have read and do they inspire you?
John: I have read many books such as “The Great Expectation” by Charles Dickens, “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, “People of the City” by Cyprian Ekweeri. I wished that Chinua Achebe wrote in Ibo, many would have wished to learn the Ibo language and other African languages.
Q. You have authored books for primary learners in Lango language and you were once a member of Lango Language Board. What do you hear has changed at the Board since you left?
John: Lango Language Board was initiated by the National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC). This was tasked to develop some local languages for use in schools and institutions of learning. LLB is tasked to develop how to write and read the language, as well as produce reading material in Lango Language. As I left, the board was experiencing financial challenges after the departure of ATR who were funding the activities of the board.
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This left the board inactive and unable to run its activities as expected. It would be great if Lango stakeholders joined hands as it’s done in the case of FUFA Drum to support the board. “Leb Lango Kur Dang Dok Mit”: let us not wonder if one day Leb Lango is used as a language of learning, communication, and business in the world such as in America, and Britain.
Q. Tell us about the books you have now and their titles. Also, where can one find a copy?
John: I have six primary school readers written in Leb Lango and published by Fountain publishers. I call the Okelo series: Okelo Twon Icoo, Okelo Twon Gweno, Okelo Twon Ajanga, Okelo Twon Gwok; Okelo Nyok Dyel.
Q. Do you face any problem writing a book and if you do, what is it?
John: Writing requires time and knowledge about what one is writing about.
Q. They say, there is a poor reading culture among Lango people and generally nationwide. Social media seems to have taken much of people’s time and they only ‘click on the links’. What must be changed for people to start reading hard copies (books) like yours?
John: There is a poor reading culture among people. The government needs to establish reading libraries within communities, preferably in trading centres and sub-counties instead of social media which is easily accessible.
Q. Politically, you represented Te-Obia Parish for 6 years at a time Lira was still a Municipality. Do you recommend anyone who seeks your political approval or a child of yours to do politics?
John: It’s said Politics is a dirty game, and I agree to a certain extent. If one is honest and democratic, he would not wish to cheat and play it dirty. I encourage honesty in a would-be politician.
Q. What have you learned as a politician and what should the current politicians do?
John: I learnt that one should be truthful and honest. The current politicians should not stick beyond the wishes of the people. If they want to change, he should abide by their wishes.
Q. As I said earlier, after retirement from civil service, you continued to serve in different capacities, one as an associate assessor in the education department of Dokolo District and a member of Peace and Justice Communication in the Lira Diocese. Starting with justice, do you see those in need of justice especially in Lango getting it?
John: Lango needs to be justified. They still demand to pay for their loss during the insecurities caused by the cattle rustlers and wars.
Q. What were your key roles as an associate assessor with Dokolo district local government?
John: As a former Associate assessor, my role was to inspect, assess and report on academic progress in different primary schools.
Q. Have things changed in the education sector or there are still loopholes?
John: Little has changed, infrastructures still need improvement in the different schools considering the increasing population of learners. The girl child still needs more social and academic attention from both the parents and the government.
Q. Have you mentored any of your children for whatever responsibilities?
John: I am blessed with many children who are practising different professions as educationists, social workers, administrators; community psychologists and some in the army.
Q. How much do you sell “Okelo Twon Gwok”?
John: Okelo Twon Gwok was selling at Uganda shillings 4,500 five years ago, I am not sure now.
Mzee, thanks for your audience and I wish you the best in 2023.
Thank you so much for creating the time to interact with me, wishing a happy new year to everyone, especially the people of Lango. May it be another fruitful year.