Isaac Newton Old Boy brings pride and progress to his community
Samuel Ssebulime was born in 1996 into a poor family of subsistence farmers. They produce food for their own consumption and earn an irregular cash income from occasional food surpluses. With 8 children to support and despite their best efforts the family struggled to pay primary school fees. By the time Samuel reached Primary 6 in 2008, his mother became a single parent. With five children still at home, life was a struggle. She had no alternative but to move Samuel to a free state primary school, but such schools are grossly underfunded and have class sizes over 100. Nevertheless, Samuel worked hard and gained a First Grade in his Primary Leaving Exam in 2009. Knowing he was a bright boy, his mother enrolled him in a government-aided school but, unable to meet even the half fees required, he was forced to withdraw in 2010.
At this point, Ezra Mulwana, Headteacher of Isaac Newton Humanist High School, heard of Samuel’s plight and offered him a full UHST boarding scholarship, funded by Birmingham Humanists in the UK. This lifeline removed the burden of worry and enabled him to complete 4 years of schooling and to take O-level examinations in the Uganda Certificate in Education. He was the best student in his year and gained a coveted overall First Grade, awarded to only 6% of students nationwide.
Samuel went on to gain A levels in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and subsidiary Computing and General Studies, His grades of a B in Mathematics and two Cs made him eligible for a much sought-after government scholarship to university.
In Uganda there is practically a year between taking A-levels and being admitted to university. To help him over this period, Isaac Newton School, give Samuel part-time employment as a teaching assistant in Biology and Chemistry. Samuel was delighted when he eventually heard that he had won a place at Makerere, Uganda’s top university to study for a 4-year degree in Agriculture. Although the course was full time and in Kampala, Samuel travelled 3 hours back to the school every weekend to provide extra teaching assistance to students. The money he earned from this enabled him to cover his lodging and subsistence while he studied, but he had to make up the time by studying into the small hours on weekday evenings.
This year, Samuel’s efforts have paid off. He has graduated as one of the top Agriculture students in his year, with a 2.1 Degree from Uganda’s top institution of higher education. His final year courses will have equipped him to contribute to Uganda’s future. They included: entomology, nematology, plant breeding, crop disease, animal nutrition and health, dairying, poultry, apiculture, soil management, marketing & principles of management. His course marks ranged from 71 to 91%, just short of a 1stclass honours, which are awarded very sparingly in Uganda. The degree award was a welcome 24th birthday present. His success delighted his teachers, fellow students, his mother, siblings and indeed the whole community around.
To give him time to find his feet, Isaac Newton School has offered Samuel a teaching post until he gets on his feet. This is a win-win for both. The school gets a teacher with a high level of subject expertise who has a strong commitment to the school that has nurtured his talent, and Samuel has an opportunity to give something back to the school while he finds his place in the world. He is hoping to start a Master’s course in September, so that he can qualify for a high-level position in the agriculture sector. In the meantime, the Isaac Newton Humanist Cooperative is drawing upon Samuel’s new-found knowledge to enable farmers in the District to establish chicken and mushroom projects to boost their productivity and incomes.
Samuel’s success exemplifies how supporting schools with a liberal-humanist ethos and giving them the resources they need to achieve high standards student welfare and education can transform individual life chances and the fortunes of families and the wider community.