KAMPALA – A Ugandan beekeeper who lost his vision after an attack by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels two decades ago has won a $25,000 (about sh88m) prize for a project to train youth in bee keeping.
Simon Ojok was one of three, out of a pool of over 200 applicants from 27 countries, who were announced winners of the inaugural Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.
The two other award winners are Penny Melville-Brown from UK and Ahmet Ustunel, a US citizen of Turkish origin, both of whom are blind.
The prize is awarded by the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a San Francisco-based charity that targets enterprising people who are visually impaired.
Ojok’s target is to raise employment rates for blind and partially sighted individuals in rural regions of Uganda.
Born in 1981, Ojok lost his sight in 1990 after falling into an ambush of LRA rebels in Gulu district. They beat him severely and he incurred serious head injuries.
His vision quickly deteriorated since he could not easily access medication. Even as his vision waned, he took on menial jobs to survive and pay his school fees up to Senior Six.
Ojok says his turning point was when he was walking in the bush close to home and came across a clay pot with bees and honey inside.
In 2014, seven years after working with organisations supporting persons with disabilities, he started the HIVE Uganda programme, which currently manages more than 100 colonized hives.
His project seeks to provide 60 high quality beehives and honey-extraction equipment, honey-harvesting suits, gloves and boots to beneficiaries who are all visually impaired.
“I feel relieved that we will be able to demonstrate that anybody, blind and partially sighted, can participate in development,” Ojok said in an interview.
Judges found his project intriguing, considering that the scientific understanding of beekeeping biology was first worked out by a blind scientist, François Huber in the 19th century.
All the judges are blind.
Ojok says he will use the prize money to teach visually impaired Ugandans to become beekeepers and entrepreneurs as part of his HIVE Uganda program.