Humanist schools hit by climate change and crop disease
The Humanist secondary schools in Uganda, supported by UHST, have suffered unexpected setbacks in their progress towards self-reliance. Exceptionally heavy rains and crop disease have devastated crop yields and incomes, making it difficult for families to pay school fees. This has left the schools with a serious cash shortfall.
Mustard Seed School’s financial problems started when extraordinarily heavy rains destroyed crops. As a consequence, parents, who rely for their income on selling surplus food, found it impossible to keep up with school fees for their children. The problem was exacerbated by the destruction of the school fence during road widening, which left the school with a 14 million Uganda shilling (£3,000) repair bill. The local authority gave the school only 14 days to replace the fence, in the face of a threat to close the school temporarily to avoid accidents to children. These twin challenges have made it impossible for the school, without assistance, to meet monthly staff costs of 14.6million Uganda shillings (£3,100) for November and December.
Isaac Newton School has faced its own financial challenges, due to failures in the main cash crop, coffee. Yields in 2019 fell well below expectations due to an attack of coffee wilt disease. The fall in local incomes made it impossible for local farmers to pay school fees. By the end of October, school fees were in arrears to the tune of 32,453,600 shillings (almost £7,000). In desperation, the school had no alternative but to send some students home, because it could no longer afford to feed them. 90% of Isaac Newton’s parents are peasant farmers, whose income is completely dependent upon the income generated from their harvest. As with Mustard Seed, it left the school with no funds to clear the salary bill for the two last months of the year, nor to cover the staff costs of running the end of year exams.
Although UHST funds were stretched by large-scale building programmes at the two schools, we had to find ways to help the schools to meet their immediate running costs. Some work at the schools had to be postponed so we could send money to meet the schools’ salary bills to the end of the year. We also sent money to pay end of year bonuses, which have become very important for maintaining staff morale and retention. Further money has been sent to enable the schools to smarten up the school sites following a year of extensive building work. The events have brought home just how vulnerable rural schools in Africa are to natural hazards.