About Hope North and Okello Sam


About Hope North

Hope North is educating and healing the young victims of Uganda’s civil war, including orphans and former child soldiers, empowering them to become voices for peace and development.

Founded in 1998 by artist and former child soldier Okello Sam, Hope North is an accredited secondary school located on a 40-acre campus with an international arts center, vocational training, and a working farm, staffed by 26 dedicated Ugandan educators. Thousands of vulnerable youth have lived at Hope North, and today hundreds of students are working towards their degrees and planning careers. These youth in turn are contributing to peace-building by organizing educational theater and soccer tournaments throughout the north, an area destroyed by years of war, reaching thousands more.

About Okello Kelo Sam

Founder Okello Kelo Sam was born in northern Uganda on December 8, 1969, the 3rd child in a family that included one father, three wives and 20 siblings. While walking to school at age 16, Okello and a group of other kids were abducted into a rebel army and initiated with a nightmarish two-week basic training at their own high school that included torture and brainwashing. During a pitched battle, Okello escaped, only to find his family were dispersed by the chaos of Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement and a scourge of vicious Karamojong cattle rustlers. With his village in the heart of the war zone, his family’s whereabouts unknown, Okello found his way to the capital, where an uncle gave him space along with 2 wives and 4 children in a 2-room house in the slums. Okello carried water and washed clothes for money with one driving ambition, to raise the money to continue his education. 10 years after his abduction he was a rising star in Uganda’s arts and culture scene, married with one child and pursuing his bachelor’s degree, when tragedy struck again. Okello’s teenage brother Godfrey was abducted from boarding school, along with 50 other children, by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. And then one morning in 1998 Okello opened the morning paper to the gruesome photographs of 300 people killed and dismembered in his home village.

In his own words, “…my relatives, my friends, guys I went to school with, when I got the news, I just broke down. So I got into my car, driving toward the north, just doing it out of anger, out of frustration, so many of the people you know have died and you don’t know what else to do.” A friend had joined the ride to persuade Okello that driving back into the war zone was mad, but Okello had to do something. “So we kept on driving, driving, driving and I stopped. And an idea came to my mind.” That very day Okello bought land in Kitwanga Village, a safe area just beyond the war zone protected by the Nile River, and so began Hope North. Okello says he realized, “to build the conditions for peace we must educate and empower youth.”

Okello is a musician, actor, comic and choreographer who performed in “The Last King of Scotland,” recorded with the Blue Man Group and now leads a 28-member dance group called Mizizi Ensemble.

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A view of the Hope North campus.

Peace advocate and Hope North donor Forest Whitaker lends a hand while visiting in 2007.

Hope North students on a break from class.

Students heal through arts programs, including music, theater and dance.

Map of UgandaClick Here to Enlarge in new window

Students taking examinations at Hope North.

Some Hope North students show up with a single suitcase.

The students bake bread every day that is sold in the local markets.

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