The Full Story
Oliver Zola wanted to do more than wash cars and hawk secondhand shoes on the street. But as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, his options for livelihood were quite limited. Zola learned about our vocational school during English classes at another organization. He didn’t know what welding was and had never handled any power tools before, but he had two important assets: his youth and eagerness to learn.
Zola was born in Isiro, Democratic Republic of Congo in 1999. His father died when he was an infant and Zola went to live with his uncle’s family. Northeast Congo is an unstable region, infamous for rebel militias and the lack of law and order. In 2009 his uncle left this dangerous region, taking his family and Zola to Arua, Uganda. Not finding the stability they were looking for, they left Aura for the capital city of Kampala.
Somehow between these three localities, Zola managed to complete the first ten years of basic education. But ever since leaving the French speaking Congo, he struggled with the English language. Ultimately he dropped out of school due to his inability to pay tuition. Recognizing that his limitations with English were always going to hold him back, He enrolled in a heavily subsidized language program. He studied English at Refuge and Hope for two and a half years. Achieving a fair degree of fluency, he learned about our vocational program and enrolled as a student in September of 2019.
Zola emerged as a leader among his Congolese classmates and helped the ones who were struggling with English. Due to the Covid-19 closure of all schools he didn’t graduate until December of 2020. In early 2021, he started working at a Kampala area company that manufactures steel windows, doors, railings, gates, and other residential products. His skills were appreciated, and he now works on the installation crew most of the time.
By learning how to weld, he has doubled his income relative to washing cars and hawking shoes. Such work was irregular, depending on the vagaries of the day. The welding job gives him a predictable income. This is important if he is to realize his dream of marriage and family some day.
I asked Zola if the daily Bible classes we had every morning at school were helpful to him. Zola came to the school as a fairly nominal Christian but jaded about the state of popular Christianity around him. Through the Bible classes, “I learned to be faithful, even to my boss.” He also stopped hanging out with certain friends and visiting nightclubs. “I used to have nothing to do, but these days I’m busy working.”