The 20-year war in Northern Uganda was traumatizing. Many of us suffered horrific atrocities and tragic family losses, displacement from our ancestral villages, and overcrowded camp conditions. Some were abducted and forced to become child soldiers. Some received psychosocial support services. Many did not. Such support services are still needed. Additional factors create challenges including various elements of modernity, the continued deterioration of our cultural values, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, youth unemployment, illiteracy, malnutrition, food insecurity, deforestation, drought, natural disaster, diseases, alcoholism and depression, the recent Covid 19 pandemic, the soaring cost of living and damage to ecosystems and climate change.
Hostilities ceased in 2006, and by 2008, most displaced families resettled back to their ancestral villages or in town. Determined to continue his education, Simon through the support of a benefactor was taken to Bweyale where he completed his primary and high school education, performing well. One day he survived burning in a tobacco house from fire at night. He did menial labour at people’s farms and tobacco gardens during school breaks and weekends to make ends meet. Again, the generous support from his Church saw him complete his High School where he studied a subject combination of History, Economics, Geography, and Fine Art.
Simon honed his leadership skills, serving as a prefect in charge of religious affairs. He then enrolled at Gulu University and earned a BA. Education. Upon graduation, Simon served for four years as a Head teacher at Archangel Michael Orthodox Secondary School where he registered unmatched success. Along with his dedicated teams of teaching staff, he made sure the young school was licensed and accredited by the Ministry of Education and Sports with an examination center in its name, hence allowing candidates who were in their final years to sit the national examinations with confidence. The student’s enrollment also exponentially increased from 115 to 600 students by the time he left the school in 2015.
As Simon was pondering his next move, a friend and prominent missionary to Uganda from the U.S.A. named Sue Nelson entered his life once again. Sue had met Simon in 2008 as her translator and subsequently sponsored his undergraduate education at Gulu University. Now, Lift Up Uganda (Sue Nelson’s nonprofit) sponsored Simon to complete seminary to prepare for his lifelong dream of being a priest. He graduated in 2019 from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity and was ordained a priest. While at the seminary, Fr. Simon struck a lasting friendship with the seminary president, Rev. Fr. Chad Hatfield who later visited Fr. Simon in Uganda. He also made a strong bond with Dr. Albert Rossi a clinical Psychologist at the seminary who had a strong impact in Fr. Simon’s progress and completion of seminary studies. A few weeks after Simon had returned to Uganda, his father passed away.
Nevertheless, Fr. Simon’s dreams never faded away. Instead, the tragedies bolstered him. Fr. Simon kept alive the dreams he had developed while on a seminary OCMC mission visit to Guatemala organized by his spiritual Father and mentor, the Rev. Fr. Chad. While there, Fr. Simon witnessed first-hand how the people of Guatemala use whatever little resources they have in their possession to sufficiently develop with a burning desire in his heart and full of ideas, Fr. Simon copied the Guatemala style and hit the ground running by duplicating what he saw.
With financial assistance from his networks in the U.S.A like the 10% tithe from St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary, and other partners, he mobilized like-minded youth in Acholinyek village and began initiating youth-led and community projects such as brick-making, communal farming, beekeeping, pig farm, clinic construction, village savings and credit union, small library development, and income-generating activities. This was the birth of the Northern Uganda Self-Sufficiency Project as a community-based organization.
Simon, the little boy who once survived the LRA kidnap is now a teacher, role model, mentor, priest, family man with three children, and a loving wife. Fr. Simon has continued to extend his helping hands to his extended families, orphans and vulnerable children, and the Acholinyek community at large. In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, Fr. Simon Menya serves as the Executive Director of the Northern Uganda Self-Sufficiency Project.