Emma Okello

Emma remembers how her studies in Gulu were interrupted in 2003 by rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army. “At times we could run out of classrooms, hide in the bush, and miss out classes.But I had to continue with my studies.” Emma won her Ordinary Certificate of Education in 2007, her Advanced Certificate at Namugongo school in Kampala, and a degree in Community-based Rehabilitation at Kyambogo University (2013). After interning with the Gulu local government she joined GDPU in 2015 as a parent facilitator under the project “Survival and Inclusion of Disabled Children in Uganda.” In 2017/2018 Emma was a focal point in the GDPU partnership with Action on Disability and Development (ADD). She is administrator and deputy program manager for GDPU’s WASH program to install accessible toilets at primary schools. Emma loves traveling, watching movies and making new friends. Her dream is to win a scholarship to study psychology or public health in the USA

“I Could Not Attend My Uncle’s Funeral”

17 Jul

Emma and Josh, 3.

As a mother of a child, living during this pandemic is unlike anything else. We stay in a very congested place within Pece division, Gulu municipality. Taking care of my 3-year old son is a challenge. There are so many people living within the same compound. Children are not allowed to mix and play together. The situation has become very ugly to me. I am, like, “Oh God when will this whole drama be done?”

When the government declared the lock down I became even more confused. One day I thought of driving off to my village with my son to go stay there for a while. But then I looked at the situation again from a different aspect. For example, I thought: what if my boy needs medical attention? At the same time, I am diabetic and I may also need some medical attentions. What was going to happen? All the private and public transport had been stopped. So I just decided to remain calm at my house, come what may. Life has to continue amidst the pandemic.

“Oh God, when will this whole drama be done?”

Life has become very expensive in Gulu. The price of beans has gone up to 7,000 Ugandan shillings ($1.90) a kilo, from 3,800 ($1.02). A packet of salt has doubled from 1,000 ($0.27). Sugar has gone from 3,500 ($1.00) to 4,500 ($1.2). Our landlady is putting pressure on us to pay rent. But everybody is just staying home, doing no business. Even my side business – a cosmetic shop which used to support my family on a daily basis – has been closed.

Social gathering at the public places like church, traditional ceremonies, weddings, meetings have all been stopped. I lost my uncle but I could not even attend his burial because public transport and private cars were not allowed to operate. Bicycles are allowed, but I cannot ride very far.

One day our landlady told me that she doesn’t want to see any child playing in the compound. This also stressed me out because I have a stubborn boy who also wants to jump around the compound. I had to close the door and remain inside, watching cartoons on television. Life has become so boring. It’s even worse when there is no electricity, because at least when there is power you can watch television and see our president addressing the nation and giving out new updates and directives.

Everyone within our compound has started putting water and soap in front of their houses. When The Advocacy Project came out with the idea of mask production, we mobilized some women with disabilities to start the work. This helped to restore my hope, and helped me to see something positive in the situation. I realize that persons with disability can still do something despite the pandemic.

“The (Mama Cave) mask production has restored my hope and helped me to see something positive in the situation.”

The pandemic has also improved my hygiene. I must not forget to put hand-washing facilities in front of my house, I always travel with my hand sanitizer in the bag, and never forget to put on a mask whenever I am going to a public place like market.

Now that GDPU and AP have started liquid soap training, I have learnt how to mix the chemical. Soon, I will be able to train more young people with disabilities so that they can learn the skills and the knowledge needed to produce liquid soap. This will help them to earn a living during the pandemic and live dignified lives in the community.

Posted By Emma Okello

Posted Jul 17th, 2020


  • Iain Guest

    July 18, 2020


    Emma, thank you for this really interesting description of life in Gulu during the pandemic. It’s very sad, and we send our sympathies to you and your family. But as you write, GDPU’s work is more important than ever and you are a pillar of the organization! I hope it helps to write about your situation and know that people outside Uganda will read your blogs. We’d like to have more blogs from you!

  • Bobbi Fitzsimmons

    July 20, 2020


    Emma, I’m so glad you have found a purpose and some hope in this difficult situation. Your son is so lucky to have an understanding mother who is looking out for his best interests. I, too, hope this situation will come to an end soon and that we all can once again visit our families. Stay safe and stay positive.

  • Brigid

    July 20, 2020


    Emma, I have been hearing about GDPU’s work through AP’s Peace Fellow Wilson, but I am so excited to get to learn more about you through these blogs! The boredom you mention is certainly something everyone is struggling with admit the pandemic, but I can truly not imagine it with a three-year old (my mom works at a day-care for two/three year olds and has many stories about the restless nature of such young kids!) It was interesting to hear about the rise in prices in Gulu as well. This is not something I have thought about in the U.S. I am glad, however, that the mask and soap production is providing some sort of hope for you. Your question of “Oh God when will this whole drama be done?” is something that I ask often, but we need to all hold on to the hope that all of this WILL end. As for now, you’re truly a role model for being a loving and patient mother.

  • Alexandra Mayer

    August 4, 2020


    Emma, thank you for sharing your personal experience with the world. So many parents and caretakers, like you, have been strong and inspiring during this time. You not only support your child, but your community as well. Thank you!!!

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