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Plans of a teenager -

Plans of a teenager

Elliot, the porter we hired at Buhoma to help us cross the impenetrable forest, has been quiet all day. He does not want any food or water. ‘Sure?’ He is sure.

We are seated in the forest waiting for something to happen; maybe a gorilla will show up, maybe a blue monkey, maybe nothing. I ask Elliot one more time, ‘are you sure you do not want water?’ He is fine.

- What do you do in life? I ask.
- I am porter.
- Do you go to school?
- I’m in high school. I want to go to the university in Kampala next year.
- What do you want to study?
- I want to be a veterinary and work here in the park. If veterinary is not possible, I want to study chemical engineering. That is important here in Buhoma to help in healthcare initiatives.

That sounds like a plan. Elliot is 16, but he already has plans for life.

Later we find another boy in the street who tries to sell us some carved wood gorillas. We decline but he explains his life,

- I am 14, my uncle taught me carving wood, my mother died from AIDS and my family is very poor.

As sad as it might sound, it sounds like a memorized selling pitch. But the boy does not give up,

- This is good wood.

I am definitely not interested in a wooden gorilla,

- What do you do besides being here at the store?
- I go to school, next year I will go to high school.
- That is impressive, how old are you? What do you want to do?
- I am 14. I want to be a lawyer because there are not a lot of lawyers in Uganda. And as the government pushes for democracy, more lawyers will be needed.
- That sounds very smart!
- But I do not want to be any lawyer. I want to be a criminal lawyer, because that is what people will want in a few years.

I am impressed. Here it is a 14-year-old boy explaining me why he wants to be a lawyer and not any kind of lawyer. I just replied, ‘I wish I had such a clear idea of what I want to do of my life.’ I had a very positive surprise with the level of education in Uganda and the importance people and newspapers give to education. What happened is that, while most African countries invested foreign aid money in college education, which is usually a privilege of wealthy people, Uganda invested in primary and secondary education. That allowed poor people to access education and, as a result, to reach national colleges. The rest, the maturity of these teenagers, is probably a result of the tough childhood and sad stories as the one I heard in Buhoma.

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