Ojok Simon smiles at the beach

Remembering Holman Prizewinner Ojok Simon

Ojok Simon smiles at the beach

t is with great sadness and a heavy heart we share the passing of our dear friend and 2017 Holman Prizewinner, Ojok Simon. On July 25, Ojok passed away in his home of Gulu, Uganda and is survived by his loving wife and five children.  

Ojok Simon was one of three recipients of the very first Holman Prize in 2017. For those who may not know about the Holman Prize: each year LightHouse awards three blind people worldwide $25,000 to achieve an ambition over a 12-month period. Ojok’s ambition was to train other blind Ugandans to support themselves and their families by becoming beekeepers like him. In Ojok’s Holman Prize pitch video, he talks about his childhood and growing up in rural Uganda – how he was not able to go out in the bush to hunt for wild honey like his brothers, and how he eventually trained himself to safely and successfully  become a beekeeper. You can hear Ojok tell his story to the Holman Prize team in this YouTube video. 

Ojok in protective clothing smiles and holds up a honeycomb covered in bees
Hive Uganda beekeepers harvesting honey at night
Ojok Simon and others smile holding up a stack of honey jars

During his Holman Prize year, Ojok achieved his goal and trained over 50 blind people to become successful beekeepers. He was a mentor and leader in the blind community in Gulu. His legacy, HIVE Uganda, is a thriving organization today.  

Those who had the privilege of meeting and knowing Ojok have very kind words to say about him. 

Fellow 2017 Holman Prizewinner, Ahmet Ustunel, wanted to share this about his friend: 

“I am so sorry for our loss. It was great to get to know Ojok. Although we only spent a few days together in San Francisco during the Holman Prize orientation, it was enough time to become good friends with him. We kept in touch for the last four years. I’ll always remember him as a fun, happy, positive and generous person. My first memory of Ojok was the two of us running together towards the ocean. It was his first time seeing the Pacific Ocean. It was so great to be part of that moment and share his joy.” 

The three 2017 Holman Prizewinners, Ahmet, Penny and Ojok, pose together at the beach in San Francisco

Fellow 2017 Holman Prizewinner and friend, Penny Melville-Brown, shares her sense of loss and sympathies: 

“I am very staggered to learn of Ojok’s passing.  I have been in contact with him just recently about beekeeping as we also have bees here in Hampshire, UK.  We have been looking for ways that English beekeepers could learn from and support his activities in Uganda where he has been a leading light in training other blind people in this ancient craft, giving them more personal and financial independence.  

“I was honored to have spent time with him in San Francisco in 2017 when we were just setting out on our Holman adventures and, then again in 2018, when we each gave presentations about our achievements and successes to the gala dinner. He had certainly used his prize to improve the lives of many other blind men and women in his country while also spreading his vigor, humor and determination to an international audience. It was a delight to have known him and I’m glad that my book captures just a glimpse of his wonderful personality. He was a fabulous force of nature, an inspiration to everyone (whether a beekeeper or blind person). I am proud to have known him, been a peripheral part of his world and a shadow of his burning passion to change life for others with visual impairment. He is a huge loss to the international blind and beekeeping communities. My heart goes out to his family and friends who will be mourning this gaping hole in their lives.” 

Holman Prize judge and former LightHouse Board member, Hoby Wedler, remembers Ojok fondly: 

“Ojok was a true leader in the blindness world and had a joy of life that was infectious. I vividly recall his enthusiasm, charismatic nature, and excitement for his Holman Prize opportunity.” 

LightHouse and the Holman Prize alumni send their deepest condolences to Ojok’s loved ones. We are proud to have known and worked with Ojok Simon, to have watched his achievements with HIVE Uganda, and to honor his life, his legacy, and his leadership in the blind community.  

To read more about Ojok and his time with LightHouse as a Holman Prizewinner, here are links to a June 2017 LightHouse interview with Ojok shortly after he was announced as a winner and an August 2017 LightHouse interview with Ojok when he was nearing the end of his Holman Prize year.

Please note: an online giving fund is being set up to support Ojok’s family. We will share more information on this in the coming weeks.

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