Forty years ago, in the late 1970s, Marcellina Otii, a teacher, wife, and mother of two, fled her home in Northern Uganda, which had become increasingly treacherous under the brutal rule of Idi Amin, aka “The Butcher of Uganda.” After the despot murdered the Rt. Reverend Janani Luwum, the archbishop of the Church of Uganda and spiritual leader, Amin went about “weeding” well educated Acholi men from the targeted Luo tribe. Marcellina and Albert, her husband, escaped to Kenya and brought their family to the United States through the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
In Colorado, Ottii worked with Montessori and Denver public schools, eventually becoming the Director of Family Star Montessori. When Marcellina retired, she was able to pursue her vision of bringing a social justice kind of Montessori preschool for youth in Uganda that cannot afford access to critical education. She returned to the Acholi sub-region of Uganda, which is still recovering from the scars of 25 years of civil war, best known for the abduction of 30,000 children. Preschool education is a necessary head start to acquire English as a Second language in order to complete and pass the seventh-grade examinations required to enter secondary schools. “I co-founded Mother Earth Montessori in Gulu with both my Denver Montessori colleagues and the schoolmates of my youth and fellow Ugandan educators. It is a seed and a model of possibilities for vulnerable children. After all the educational expertise I have gained in my new country, it is my moral duty to share it in the land which raised me to face the world. It is time for Africa!” declares Otii.
Together with the support of several charitable organizations, Marcellina has dedicated her summers off, personal resources, and expertise to aid in the development and support of education for Gulu youth as well as adults. “There are always more applicants with desperate circumstances to choose from each year,” sites Otii. “One year, we had to choose between one older student completing a final but expensive semester in a nursing school and an orphan who needed to continue in elementary school. The nursing student’s parent pleaded with us to get his son to the finish line while the foster parent of the orphan delivered a guilt trip. In the end, we chose the nursing student because this was his last chance to escape from poverty.”