I met Okello Collins Monday in December 2007 during one of my visits to Uganda. He was being hosted by Ugandan artist Fred Mutebi for several days of art workshops. The art workshops were being provided to selected students from Hope North. These students had the opportunity to be taught and mentored by accomplished artists Stephen Mwanje, Taga Nuwagaba, Veroniccah Muwonge and Fred Mutebi.
Various art methods were taught in the workshops such as linocut printing, painting, drawing, and tie-dyeing.
I attended the art workshops and had the privilege to spend time with the students. During my time with the students, I got to hear their personal stories. Some of their experiences were expressed through the artwork that was created. Okello Collins Monday told me his story. He shared an experience with me that was also memorialized in his artwork.
Once upon a time when I was staying in a village called Olwal, I was abducted by the rebels when we were sleeping. It was at night when the rebels came and found four of us sleeping in the same room. Due to my bad luck, the boys ran away and I was left alone in the room. One rebel entered the room where I was sleeping and I was captured. We were three that were abducted and out of those I was the youngest. One person was killed because he tried to run away and then there were just us two. I was given a heavy load and the other man was being tortured seriously. On the second day we moved for about 20 miles. My leg was swollen and they decided to kill me because I was unable to walk. Due to my good luck the commander ordered one abducted man to carry me on his back because I was very young. On the third day we came to a village called Natiko and we stayed there for three days without moving anymore. My leg was treated and I got cured. We were being sent to go and get food stuffs from the nearby camp. On the seventh day, which was my last day in the bush, we moved from Natiko to a certain village called Laroo, which is near the town and I decided to escape.
I interviewed Okello Collins Monday during my visit. I wanted to learn more about this incredibly resilient young man. I wanted to know about his family. I wanted to know more about his community. I wanted to know about his hopes and dreams.
Five years after I interviewed Okello Collins Monday, Academy Award winning actor and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker interviewed him. Forest is the founder of PeaceEarth. The organization helps societies affected by conflict and violence transform into safe and productive communities.
Okello Collins Monday is now facilitating the art program at Hope North that was started by the Lalela Project. The arts curriculum will give students a structured program purposefully designed to address the trauma and conflict that they have experienced. The vision is to spark creative thinking and awaken the entrepreneurial spirit to inspire a peaceful future..