For over two decades, from 1986 to about 2010, northern Uganda endured a nightmarish occupation by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that massacred villages and kidnapped children, forcing young boys to become child soldiers and girls into sexual slavery.
The Invisible Children
Children fled from their homes each evening to avoid being abducted, hiding in the bush or walking long distances to sleep in cities like Gulu, where the Ugandan army was on guard. In the morning they’d return home. They were called “invisible children” because they were never seen during the day, only emerging at dawn and dusk to seek safety.
There was a huge social media campaign (“Kony 2012”) to call attention to the crisis, and reporters and international aid organizations flocked to Gulu to help children there. But because of the danger of the LRA, no one set foot outside the city to visit surrounding villages. There, many more children hid in the bush every night for years, unable to attend school or church, and many lost their families in the LRA’s massacres.
Rev. Dr. Milly Maturu Erema
Rev. Dr. Milly Maturu Erema comes from northern Uganda. She was attending seminary at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan in 2001, when she learned that four of her brothers were killed in the LRA conflict, and she would be responsible to educate their 22 orphaned children. Raising school fees for so many would be impossible, so she and her husband Sam, a teacher and Anglican pastor, decided to start a school where their children could get a solid, faith-based education. Churches from the Holland, Michigan area helped build the school.
The family’s children were just a few of thousands of northern Ugandan youth in villages who spent years unable to attend school because of the LRA conflict. In Kingsway’s early years, Milly and Sam took many trips to war-ravaged areas to bring desperate youth from northern villages to their school. Of course, no student could pay. Yet a large number of Kingsway’s first 150 students came from the conflict area.
Over time, another generation of children was born to the girls who were raped during the war, even more unable to find education. They are now many of the young people seeking schooling at Kingsway.
Kingsway Christian High School has historically sought to operate independently and sustainably, by enrolling local paying students whose fees allow impoverished youth to attend for free. Yet the number of needy students they could help vastly outnumbers the number of paying students. So outside contributions are very welcome and desired.
COVID Pandemic Crisis
For two years during the COVID pandemic, Kingsway, like all schools, was shut down by the Ugandan government. When the shutdown ended in January 2022, the school was in crisis. The pandemic had devastated families financially and few had money to pay school fees. Many schools shut down completely. Even now, many needy children are completely unable to attend school in Uganda.
When Kingsway reopened in 2022 they accepted less than 20 students (instead of 40-50 students) and worried they wouldn’t survive. On top of this was the need to build a girls’ dormitory that the government required. Because of outside support, Kingsway was able to survive 2022 and have funds to continue building the dorm.
Encouraged, they accepted 30 more applicants for 2023 to come back to full capacity of 50. But at the beginning of the year, families stormed their offices, begging them to admit their children too. The schools that hadn’t closed had increased their fees and ended any programs for needy children. There were no other options available. Kingsway prayerfully decided to increase enrollment to 63 students to meet the demand. In 2024, they plan to increase enrollment to 100.