stevehurd@uhst.org Uganda Humanist Schools Trust

A Big THANK YOU to all Supporters

In the UK, daily new cases of Covid are around 50,000. We have 30,000 patients in hospital, and the daily death toll from Covid has exceeded 1,000. The new Kent variant of the virus is 70% more transmissible and the government has called another national lockdown. People must stay at home apart from for essential work, food shopping, medical appointments and taking exercise outdoors. We must remember “hands – face – space”; wash hands frequently with soap, cover mouths and noses to reduce spread and maintain at least 2 metres distance from others at all times. Despite high levels of compliance with these rules, the virus is spreading fast. Total deaths will soon reach 100,000 and many, who have recovered, suffer the long-term ill effects of long-Covid.

The economic impact has been immense. National production is down 10% and many people have lost their jobs or suffered severely reduced incomes. This has affected charities raising funds to help others. Major national charities have experienced substantial falls in donations and been forced to cut programme budgets.

Compared to many charities, Uganda Humanist Schools Trust has weathered the storm fairly well so far. Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, a number of supporters have cancelled their monthly bank standing orders. However, most have remained committed to the charity and to children and staff in Humanist Schools in Uganda.

For example, a London musician who has supported our work in Uganda for some years has suffered a severe fall in his income. The closure of music venues due to the pandemic has caused his income from live performances to disappear. Some instrumental teaching has continued on Zoom video, but there has been a substantial fall in students and income. He had no alternative but to cut his standing order to UHST by 90%. However, he is strongly committed to supporting the Humanist Schools in Uganda and hopes to restore the cut once his income picks up again. We find it very moving that someone who has suffered from the economic impact of Covid still prioritises the liberal-Humanist education of needy children in Uganda.

We wrote to supporters explaining the immense negative impact of Covid on the schools we support. After months of closure, they are reopening in 2021 for exam classes only (other students will not be allowed to return until after Easter). It was looking as if they would need to lay off some staff and reduce the pay of those remaining in order to survive.

Many supporters responded by sending additional one-off donations and by raising their monthly standing order payments. This has enabled UHST to provide supplementary grants to the schools to enable them to make them Covid safe. This has involved putting in more stations around the schools where students and staff can wash their hands with soap and equipping the schools with infra-red thermometers so they can regularly check temperatures. We have also provided supplementary funds to offset the loss of fee income and to enable the schools to find the money they need for salaries. As a result of a large bequest from the will of a lady who has supported our charity since its inception, a substantial donation from the proceeds of a will given to us by North London Humanists and a third large donation by a generous benefactor we have also be able to undertake a number of substantial building projects during the Covid closure of the schools: a second boys’ dormitory at Mustard Seed School, a new hall at Isaac Newton School; and work for two damaged communities near the Congo border – 50% completion of a brand new primary school at Katumba where over 100 fathers were killed in an abortive cult uprising, and the completion of a new Humanist primary school at Kanungu, where over 800 people were murdered in another cult atrocity.

We are very grateful to all UHST supporters for sticking with our charity and the schools in Uganda during this difficult time. The work we are doing together is giving hope for a better life to so many needy children. We are determined that the efforts we have made together over the past 10 years will not be frustrated by the pandemic and we intend to restore the momentum the schools had before it started. A big thank you to all!

Thoughtful Tales for Growing Minds

During the Covid-19 pandemic UHST has produced the first in a new series of books which seeks to help young children to develop a moral compass for a secular age. Initially written to be read to the children in the Humanist primary schools in Uganda, the universal themes explored in the books have wide international appeal.

The series title is “Thoughtful Tales for Growing Minds”. Each book is designed to be read aloud by teachers and other adults, including parents and grandparents. The short stories provide cues for reflection and conversation with children about personal, social and global themes that arise.

The first book, “Humfry Hippo Moves Home”, addresses the challenges of moving away to another place. Humfry has to move when his waterhole dries up. Through Humfry’s experiences, children are prepared for the challenges of a real home move – missing old friends, feelings of loneliness, remembering, making new friends, settling in and enjoying a new home. Humfry remembers an ancient Ugandan folk myth that his grandmother used to tell. It explains how hippos lost their hair and explores jealousy and forgiveness.

Humfry and the other books should appeal to parents and teachers wishing to nurture thoughtful and caring children who wish to create a good life for themselves and for those around them.  We aim, through the stories, to stimulate a love of the natural world and an appreciation of the challenges it faces.

Book details: Humfry Hippo Moves Home

5 short stories 40 pages for target age group 5-9 years.
Written by Steve Hurd and delightfully illustrated by Helen Machin-Mayer.

Published by Uganda Humanist Schools Trust.

ISBN 978-1-8382762-0-1     Price (Incl. P&P)  UK & EU £10.00, Rest of World £14

Proceeds will be used by the Trust to support the education of needy children in Humanist Primary Schools in Uganda.

Cheques to: Uganda Humanist Schools Trust (UK), 31 Greenmeadows Road, Madeley, Crewe, CW3 9EY, UK

Credit card orders

Info: stevehurd@uhst.org  +44 (0) 7773 972601

Comments by readers of the book:

I love it. I really enjoy reading about Humfry.” Florence; “The stories are amazing!” Pietro

This is a brilliant set of tales for children which entertain, educate and get them thinking about moral issues and living a good and happy life with their friends, families and communities.” Gillian, librarian, teacher and grandmother, UK.

Our children love them, and our teachers enjoy using them. They encourage children to talk about their feelings and improve their English-speaking skills. The language level is perfect for primary age children in Uganda.” Juma, Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School, Uganda.

I like the way real animal behaviour has been slipped into the tales as well as ideas for the children to express their views on human foibles.” Lynn, biologist and grandmother, UK.

“The Humfry Tales encourage children to talk in a thoughtful way about their feelings. The book is unique compared with the more usual rhyme and story books.” Hellen, New Hope Day Care Humanist Nursery School, Ntoroko, Uganda.

Katumba shows resilience in the face of adversity

This week Katumba Parents’ Humanist Primary School, close to the Congo border, reopened to its top Primary 7 class. The children begin two terms of intensive study to prepare them for their Primary Leaving Examination, which has been moved from the end of this school year in November to April, 2021. Passing PLE makes a huge difference to the children’s prospects. It shows that children have a decent basic competency in English, Mathematics and General Knowledge. Being able to read notices and newspapers will make them better farmers and citizens. It will also open up employment opportunities in service jobs and workshops and allow them to train as ancillary workers in such sectors as health care.

Katumba School children enjoying their rural life
but desperate to get back to school after the Covid closure.

Children in the lower classes are due to restart school in January. Those above are currently out of school. They have some time for play but, for most of the time, they are usefully employed helping in the fields and at home.

Climate change

Katumba families scrape a meagre living as subsistence farmers. They grow food crops such as matoke (savoury bananas), maize and sweet potatoes, and devote small pieces of land to growing cocoa, coffee and vanilla as cash crops. If you get the chance try chocolate made from Ugandan cocoa, grown in this area, you will find that it is very good! Unfortunately, yields, while normally good, have been hit by climate change which brought torrential rains and caused floods and landslides. Crops, and even soils, have been washed away. The result has been a substantial rise in malnutrition, hunger and poverty. 10 houses were buried with floodwaters in Bundibugyo and 200 in the neighbouring sub-county. As a result, families have been displaced to other areas.

Cleaning up after flash floods in the Katumba Community

Covid-19

Covid has added to the difficulties.  There have been 19 confirmed cases of Covid, including the District Health Inspector and the District Speaker. Fortunately, there have been no deaths from the virus. However, as a precautionary measure, markets for both food and cash crops have been closed, making it difficult for farmers to sell any surpluses they may have produced. Households on low incomes have been forced to switch to less nutritious foods, such as cassava. Some households have savings to enable them to cope with the loss of income. However, in Katumba, most of the families are headed by mothers who are struggling to cope as single parents. The women face the additional workload of caring for sick members of their family, on top of their heavy domestic workloads. A good number of them have had no option but to withdraw their children from school. They cannot afford to pay fees and are desperate for their children’s assistance with the work falling on their shoulders. As schools restart after the Covid closure, it will be difficult for many parents to find the money for tuition, school meals, uniforms, scholastic materials and examination fees. This will, in turn, make it hard for the mainly private schools to pay teachers and to stay open.

An old lady worried of where to get food to feed her grandchildren,
whose father died during the 2014 cult rebellion
and whose mother succumbed to HIV/AIDS.

Assistance from Uganda Humanist Schools Trust

UHST has been helping Katumba Parents’ Humanist Primary School in a number of ways:

  1. We are building the community a completely new school on a better site, above the flood waters. 3 nursery classrooms were completed in July. Work is almost finished on a new infants’ section with 4 classrooms. A 10-stance toilet block has been completed. At the same time, we have provided funds to bring mains water and electricity to the school and the village. These last two will transform prospects for the whole community by bringing the health benefits of clean water and lighting and power for local homes and enterprises.

Recently completed nursery section of the new Katumba School,
with pole bringing the new electricity supply.

  1. The school was closed, along with all other schools in Uganda, from April until this month. Teachers had to find a means of subsistence. Many were able to return to their farming roots, but others had to take whatever casual work they could find. UHST has provided money to alleviate some of the hardship, but we have only scratched the surface of the genuine financial stress faced by teachers and their families during this period.
  2. We have helped the school to prepare for re-opening in the face of the Covid-19 challenge by purchasing handwashing stations and for infra-red thermometers.
  3. Finally, we have helped those parents, mainly mothers, who are unable to pay school fees, by providing funds to cover reduced fees for those in the greatest need.

We are determined to lift the fortunes of Katumba School and of the whole community and its children. Over the next year or two we aim to complete the building of the new school. However, we do need additional funds to complete the work and to build up the school. New classrooms require tables and chairs and there is a desperate need to provide the children with play materials, books and other learning resources. A kitchen must be built to prepare school food and the staff need decent pay and working conditions. If you think you would like to help us, then please visit our donation page: https://ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org/donate/make-a-donation/.  If you would like more information about Katumba please contact Steve Hurd: stevehurd@uhst.org 07773 972601.