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.

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Isaac Newton School’s Covid-19 Challenge

Back in February, Isaac Newton School was doing well. It enrolled 600 students for the new school year – 400 boarders and 200 day-students. The O-level exam results, published the same month, placed the school 143rd out of 4,123 schools in the country. Results were particularly good in Science subjects. A month later, the school received the best A-level results in its history, placing it in the top 5 of 35 schools in Kalungu District.

In March, Uganda had its first Covid-19 case and since the 1st April the school, together with all educational institutions in Uganda, have been closed as part of the Covid lockdown.

Cleaning school for reopening

On October 15th the school was allowed to reopen but only for O and A-level finalists. Until December, schools have been instructed to operate a long teaching day, from 7am to 9pm at night, to complete the missed work from term 2. Work that should have been covered in the third term of 2020 will be undertaken between January and March 2021.  To accommodate this shift, the 2020 exams have been moved back to April 2021, to enable students to be assessed on the full syllabus.

Before schools reopen, they must obtain a Certificate to show they meet the following provisions:

  1. Provide hand-washing facilities at the main gate and outside every toilet, classroom, computer lab, science lab, dormitory and library.
  2. Have infra-red temperature guns and agree to take temperatures twice daily.
  3. Display posters on Covid prevention.
  4. Prepare rooms to house teachers, who are required to sleep on school premises.
  5. Have a standby vehicle in case of emergency.
  6. Have alcohol-based sanitizer gel.
  7. Use anti-mosquito repellent where students work to cut malaria transmission.
  8. Ensure that vitamin-rich fruits are included on the school menu.
  9. Divide students into smaller groups of not more than 40. This increases staff costs.
  10. Limit access to the school to outsiders.

Most schools in Uganda are private since the liberalisation of education in the year 2000. Isaac Newton’s district has 35 high schools, 28 private and 7 state schools and, to date, Isaac Newton is one of only 5 schools to meet the stringent requirements for reopening.

To limit the spread of Covid, schools are no longer allowed to mix day and boarding

Newest boys’ dormitory

students. As Isaac Newton has 4 good dormitories, it has been designated for boarding only. To limit transmission, room occupancy has to be reduced from 8 to 3 students. This limits the capacity of the school to 120 students, which will drastically cut fee income and put a severe strain on school finances. Additionally, the Ministry of Education expects the school to accommodate some bright students from schools that have not been allowed to reopen. Priority for places will go to existing Isaac Newton students but, after consulting families, Peter Kisirinya, the school’s Director, has agreed to take 25 O-level and 13 A-level students from other schools. New students have had to consent to relocation and to pay full fees. As part of the deal, the government has agreed to attach to the school a paramedic from Masaka Hospital with a standby ambulance, should students or staff need urgent treatment. Some of the incoming students were studying French, which is not offered at Isaac Newton, so a French teacher will be brought in to support these students.

Survival during school closure

School closure from April to October was challenging for staff and students alike. Many teachers returned to their crop growing roots. The Headteacher, Ezra, grew the local staple foods of maize and beans, but supplemented ginger to bring in extra income. 12 teachers formed a cooperative to grow tomatoes as a large-scale cash crop, with a view to selling in Kenya and South Sudan. They had a fantastic harvest but the closure of national borders, due to Covid, prevented them from exporting their crop, so they earned little from the venture. Lydia, a teacher who is a single mother, bought fresh caught fish from Lake Victoria and sold it to the growing population around the school. She managed to sustain her family in this way. Two teachers crossed to Northern Tanzania to work in the gold mines. Another used his motorcycle as a bodaboda (taxi) to earn money ferrying passengers.

The biggest problem experienced by staff during lock down was an inability to fully pay their house rent, and a few have suffered eviction. The fact that food has been cheap during this period has really helped those who do not grow their own.

Students labouring on new school hall

Most students come from subsistence farming backgrounds and they became labourers on the land and did work around the home. Four students were employed as labourers by the contractor constructing the new hall at school. They received enough money to help their families and saved enough for two-terms school fees. 8 teachers and 3 non-teaching staff found alternative employment and will not be returning to school.

Effect of Covid Measures on local incomes

The Covid lockdown has devastated the local economy. Most local people are subsistence farmers with small scale coffee production. Others, who relied upon trading activities, labouring or working for others, lost their income during the Covid lockdown, which closed all shops, markets and public transport. Agriculture was not locked so local people worked their land more intensively. With the extra care and attention, yields of staple

Subsistence smallholding

food crops, such as maize and beans, were high. Unfortunately, the biggest market for surplus food was from schools and neighbouring countries. The closure of schools and international borders left little demand for their produce and prices fell dramatically. Many small traders of non-food items lost their livelihoods through the closure of local markets. Likewise, bars and entertainment businesses closed, and still remain so. The financial situation is dire. It has caused huge distress to local families, who do not have the capacity to pay school fees now our school is reopening.

Isaac Newton has become a vital source of income to the community. Many local people provide the school with food and services. Emergency help from UHST has enabled permanent staff to be paid 50% of their normal pay and part-time employees to be given emergency food parcels. However, the school has been unable to help those local farmers who provide the ingredients for school meals nor local transport operators who ferry people and goods to and from school.

The school encouraged students to borrow books from the library during the closure. Unfortunately, most were unable to take advantage of this. In the daytime, they had chores to do and, in the evening, there was no light for reading, as few houses have electricity. Girls particularly experienced a problem due to the lack of sanitary pads, which UHST generally provides through the schools.

A distressing consequence of sending children home from school is that some, especially orphans, have suffered exploitation and abuse. We have learned that 4 of our girl students have become pregnant. Religious schools would refuse to have such girls back, because they believe they serve as poor role models. As a Humanist school, the Isaac Newton Headteacher will visit the families of affected girls to explain to parents that the school would like the girls return to school to complete their education.

With fewer children in school with even less capacity than before to pay school fees, Isaac Newton and the other Humanist schools need additional cash support to help them through the Covid crisis. If you would like to help with this, then please visit the donation page of our website: https://ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org/donate/make-a-donation/ or contact Steve Hurd for further information: stevehurd@uhst.org +44 (0) 1782 750338.

 

 

 

 

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A new start for Kanungu

Kanungu is in a hilly area in the west of Uganda. It borders the Congo and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home of the mountain gorillas. The religious cult murder of 780 local men, women and children in 2000 caused many in the area to reject organised religion. One of these was the young Robert Magara who, returning from school, witnessed the aftermath of the massacre. Robert completed his education, abandoned his Catholic faith and, after reading ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins, became a Humanist, vowing to do all he could to help his community heal the wounds of past religious divisions.

Hilly landscape

In 2017, Robert set up Kanungu Secular Schools Project.  He attracted funds from the US-based Brighter Brains Institute (BBI) for building classrooms and he recruited young teachers from the community who shared his Humanist vision for the school. Kanungu Humanist Primary School was established on a not very promising plot of land high in the hills and work started on a secondary school on land lower in the valley. At the start of the 2020 school year, the primary school had 186 children and the secondary school 45 in two classes. In 2019 BBI started to wind down as a charity and could no longer fund the Kanungu developments.

The primary school, while successful, was cheaply built and vulnerable to adverse weather. Last year, during a storm, the end wall of the main building collapsed. Earlier this year, after many exchanges by email and messenger, UHST worked with Robert on a plan to put the primary school on a firm footing. The first job was to get the school legally registered as a not-for-profit company. A Board of Directors was established, with Robert as Managing Director and representation for UHST. Robert is now working with UHST’s accountant in Kampala, Dan Kasanda, to create a robust set of baseline accounts for 2019.

The next priority was to help the school financially. We provided some cash to provide hardship payments to teachers, who had received no income since April, when all Uganda schools were closed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. A school is nothing, without its teachers.

The school has to meet the Uganda government’s Covid-19 operating standards before it will be allowed to reopen, along with other schools, in January 2021. As the school had no water on site, meeting hand-washing requirements was going to be a problem. Kanungu has heavy rain, well over 100 inches a year, so, at Robert’s request, we provided funds for a tank to harvest rainwater from the school roofs. This has now been installed (see picture of water tank arriving at the school site).

Given the loss of BBI funds, Robert had no alternative but to close the embryonic secondary school. Fortunately, he is managing to find the children places in schools around. In January the primary school will reopen on the former secondary school site. Over time, UHST has agreed to do what we can to help Robert to build the additional facilities the school needs.

Work on P2/P3 classrooms, now finished

Already funds from UHST supporters have enabled two partially completed classrooms to be completed for Primary 2 and Primary 3 children (see picture). The new site can now accommodate 5 classes, Primary 1 through to Primary 5. Covid is putting pressure on UHST funds at the moment but, as soon as more money becomes available, we hope to provide funds to add 3 classrooms for nursery-age children. This will cost £8,620. Should you wish to help with this, please email: stevehurd@uhst.org or phone +44 (0) 1782 750338 or visit the donation page of our website: https://ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org/donate/make-a-donation/.

The tragic massacre in 2000 left deep scars on the Kanungu community. We are delighted to be able to help Robert to bring hope for the new generation of children seeking a brighter future.

Acknowledgement: We are very grateful to Terri Julians for drawing Kanungu’s plight to our attention and for putting us in touch with Robert Magara. Terri has worked hard to maintain support for the school since it lost its main funding source.

 

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Meeting the Covid-19 Challenge to the Humanist Schools

Robert Magara from Kanungu meeting Dan Kasanda, our accountant

The Uganda Government made a robust response to Covid.

When the first cases arrived on a flight from Dubai, passengers were traced and isolated. Everyone in this first group recovered from the infection. The government started a national lock-down in April. Shops, markets, educational institutions  and public transport were closed. Many people in Uganda lost their livelihoods and in rural areas in particular families were unable to get produce to market, so they lost their only source of income. Household savings have been used up and families are unable to pay school fees.

For months the infection rate remained low and nobody died. Unfortunately, Uganda is the main outlet to the sea for businesses in Eastern Congo and Rwanda, so lorry drivers from those countries and from Kenya, gradually brought cases of Covid into the country. Numbers of infections and deaths from Covid have progressively increased but, even by October,  total recorded cases were only just over 9,000 and deaths have only just reached 85 – way below the levels in Europe and North America.

Nevertheless, the impact on schools has been devastating. All schools were closed from the beginning of April. Children have lost more than 5 months of schooling. This sets back their education but has also had devastating social consequences for a substantial minority of children. Children have had to labour on the land or at home. In the Bundibugyo area, near Katumba School, small children have had to do forced labour carrying heavy sacks of charcoal to local markets. Some girls have been forced into early marriages or into prostitution to earn money for their destitute families. Some have become pregnant.

Meanwhile teachers and other school staff have been sent home, in many schools without pay and they have had to resort to subsistence farming to survive. Thanks to the donations we receive from UHST supporters, we have provided funds to allow Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed Schools to pay 50% of normal salaries, and we have provided some very limited hardship funds to be given out on a discretionary basis to staff at Katumba and Kanungu Primary Schools.

Schools are being allowed to reopen in October for Primary Leaving, O and A-level exam candidates, and for other children in January. However, they must be inspected before opening and given a certificate to show they are Covid compliant. This requires class sizes to have a maximum of 40 (many schools have classes of over 1oo), dormitories to have well spaced beds with windows permanently open (despite the danger from mosquitos and malaria!?), hand washing stations throughout the schools and a school nurse with an infra-red temperature gun to test children’s temperatures twice a day. Schools with boarding are not allowed also to take day students (the Humanist schools take both) and staff have to live on the school premises so there is minimal movement in and out of the schools. The upshot of these measures is that the number of children in each school has to be reduced. Fee income will fall and this will make it difficult for many schools to cover their costs.

The need to provide furlough payments for staff during the school closure and to meet the higher running costs as they open is proving to be a real challenge to UHST. Our reserves have reached rock bottom.

Covid is a much lower cause of death in Uganda than neo-natal problems, malaria, HIV/AIDS, respiratory and gastro-intestinal infections. That said, at the moment, Covid dominates national policy in Uganda. The anti-covid measures have been so draconian that they have seriously disrupted normal social functions, like education, as well as destroying livelihoods and increasing poverty in an already poor country.

As a charity we are determined to do our very best to ensure that the Humanist Schools survive this challenge.  The Humanist School movement in Uganda has been growing. There is growing recognition that our schools provide decent standards of education and welfare and strong underlying values. At this time we need to ensure that our schools come through this pandemic, so that they can act as beacons for inclusive Humanist education based on reason, compassion and tolerance. We and the schools are grateful for all the help you can give us to meet the challenge.

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UHST Report to September 2020

The latest report from Uganda Humanist Schools Trust has been published:

https://ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/20-Chairs-Report-to-Sept-2020.pdf

It reiterates two key long-term goals for the organisation and for the Humanist Schools in Uganda:

  • Access to High Standards of Education and Welfare within a Liberal, Humanist Ethos To achieve this we need to continue providing scholarships to enable bright children from deprived backgrounds to enjoy the benefits the Humanist Schools provide with their rising standards of learning and welfare in a happy, supportive atmosphere.
  • Independent Learning – We want to help each school to empower students to become freethinking individuals, who question everything in a hunger for truth. We are trying to help teachers to shift from being “tellers” to being “enablers”. The schools need more physical spaces for independent study, with ready access to books and computers as resources for learning. Hitherto we have relied on off-line learning resources, such as the RACHEL Repository, but we are now moving to developing online learning, and the time has come to use social networking to link together students in the different Humanist schools with other students around the world. It would be nice to see schools creating online newspapers and podcasts and becoming excellent users of computers and social media.

Read more by clicking the link.

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Isaac Newton High School succeeds against the odds

Uganda Humanist Schools Trust has just published an update report on the past year of progress at Isaac Newton School, Katera, Uganda. Despite the setbacks brought by the Covid Pandemic, the report is truly inspiring.

Update on Isaac Newton High School

For a school in a poor rural area, this year’s exam results were outstanding. In the O-level exams, 21 students gained an aggregate of Grade 1 (a level attained by only 6% of students in Uganda). In national league tables the school ranked 143rd out of 4,123 school in Uganda. Grades in science were so high that the Exam Board insisted on the students being given a supplementary oral exam, which confirmed the high attainment levels shown by the exam marks.

A-level performance was even better. 92% of Isaac Newton students gained the university entrance level and no single candidate recorded a fail grade. Sadly, fears of Covid have closed all schools and universities since March, so their best cohort yet have not been able to progress to university or to vocational colleges.

Peter Kisirinya, the school’s Director, writes of the huge beneficial impact that the school is having on the rural economy. The school provides direct employment to 52 people in the area, with a further hundred jobs being supported indirectly.

The transformation in local production and living standards brought about by the school is enormous. This is evident as you come into the area, where houses have been rebuilt and modernised and people are wearing better clothes and have more goods available to them. Extending electricity has attracted new families to the area. New houses have been constructed and the local market is busier. Maize and coffee processing factories have been built. A modern poultry farm with 90,000 birds has been attracted and this employs 33 youths. Roads are now regularly maintained by local government because the area generates the taxes to cover the costs.

Once we get through the Covid crisis, the school is confident will be able to get back to the high standards of education and welfare that they were attaining before the shutdown and they will continue to transform the life chances of many young people in rural Uganda.

 

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The Covid Crisis and the Humanist Schools in Uganda

Covid has hit schools in Uganda very hard.

The virus was brought into Uganda with a plane load of passengers from Dubai in mid-March. Most of those passengers were quarantined and the country went into lock-down. All schools were instructed to close before the first term ended in March, with the expectation that they would reopen in May. Covid has been slow to take off in Uganda, with just over 1,000 cases to date and no deaths but, nevertheless, the Uganda government has taken a precautionary approach. School closures were extended and the President has now asked them to prepare to reopen in September. The students have already lost a full term’s schooling.

Normally the collective scholarship payments from UHST supporters cover 50% of the running costs of Mustard Seed School and about 40% at Isaac Newton School. During the shutdown, the schools lost their local fee income, but they still have ongoing costs, for water and electricity, local and national rates and taxes and, most importantly, staff salaries. They receive no funds from the Uganda government.

The Humanist schools have worked hard to retain staff during the lockdown. The schools have always tried to foster a strong team spirit among staff, teachers and ancillary workers. Reliable pay, fringe benefits and annual staff bonuses paid by UHST have been an important part of this. In order to support their staff during the closure, schools have been paying 50% of normal salaries. This has only been possible because UHST has continued to transfer your regular monthly scholarship payments. Although there have been no children in school, this money has helped to ensure that the children have a school to return to.

The one compensation is that the school closure has enabled UHST to help the schools to make progress in a number of areas:

  1. New Nursery at Katumba

    We have completed the nursery and infant sections of a new Humanist primary school at Katumba, Bundibugyo, on the Congo border, where 100 fathers were killed in a futile witchdoctor-led insurrection.

  2. Work is well advanced on the foundations of a new hall at Isaac Newton School
  3. A much needed second boys’ dormitory at Mustard Seed School is progressing.
  4. We have registered, as a not-for-profit company, the Humanist primary and secondary school at Kanungu, near Bwindi, the site of a dreadful massacre of 800 people by religious fanatics.

Work on New Hall at Isaac Newton School

Current expectations are that children will return to school in September, after an extended summer holiday. The government is proposing to run the final term up to the end of December, to give students an opportunity to catch up on the substantial amount of work they have missed. National examinations, if they are held, will move back from October to the end of December.

Covid has caused huge problems for everyone in Uganda, and especially for school staff and, more particularly, for children and students. They could not have managed without the money from UHST supporters, which has given them an essential lifeline during the Covid crisis. They are hugely grateful to UHST supporters for the help you have given them in these unprecedented times.

Work on Mustard Seed dormitory

The virus has curtailed economic activity in Uganda and destroyed the livelihoods of many poor families. When the schools reopen, children not receiving UHST scholarships, will find it difficult to pay fees. This, in turn, will make it hard for the schools to pay their teachers. Our priority, at UHST, is to harness funds to help our schools to not only survive the current financial shock but also to re-establish the momentum they had before the crisis hit. We can do this with your continued support.

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Education is Transforming Uganda

In order to understand the context in which the small but growing number of Humanist Schools in Uganda are working, we need an overview of the education system. The most reliable source of information is the National Census of 2014, the results of which were published in 2017. The broad picture will not have changed substantially since then.

Educating the new generation

With historic fertility rates as high as 7 children per woman, the school-age population in Uganda has been growing apace. In the year 2000, realising that it would not be able to meet the demand for new schools, the Uganda government liberalised the school system allowing a variety of private and community organisations to set up schools. Religious organisations were quick to see an opportunity to extend their influence over Ugandan society. New schools were established by the protestant Church of Uganda, the Catholic Church, Evangelical Protestant Churches (supported largely by American congregations) and by different Moslem groups, who provide 10-15% of religious schools.

Sector Primary (%) Secondary (%)
Religious organisations*

57

41

Entrepreneurs*

18

30

Community groups*

13

16

Government schools

5

6

Others*

7

7

TOTAL SCHOOLS

20,310

3000

*Many schools receive some government support.
Source Uganda Census 2014 (Analysis 2017).

Frenzy of new school building

Entrepreneurs were the next biggest group founding schools. Many saw schools as a business opportunity and founded them as private companies running for profit. Schools have also been set up by local people to serve the needs of a community. Government schools form a small minority of the total. The Humanist Schools, which are private schools run on a charitable basis fit in the Others category.

Since the liberalisation of education, the number of schools has increased greatly, as has the proportion of children in full-time education. Among today’s young people, 17% attend pre-school, 80% go to primary, 44% to secondary school, and 4% go on to University level courses. All schools expect fees or other financial contributions from families. In rural areas, livelihoods are from subsistence farming. The little cash families earn derives from the sale of surplus food or cash crops. So, for many Ugandans, incomes are low and unreliable. Meeting the school fees for all members of a family is a major challenge. Consequently, school drop-out rates are high. 40% of boys and 49% of girls leave primary school before taking their Primary Leaving Examination (PLE). Of the children who complete their primary education, a further 38% drop out before O-level exams.

Although many young people now gain an education, among the general working population (aged 13-59) the proportion of educated people remains low. In 2014, only 9.6% of the working population had completed primary school, 8% had an O-level, 3% an A-level and only 2% had a degree-level qualification.

With such low general levels of education, new school leavers with O and A-levels can do very well in the job market. Those that secure a paid job can create a good life themselves and also help to support their family members back in the villages. The Humanist Schools are a small part of the total. However, they provide a unique education based on the values of reason, compassion and tolerance. Together they are transforming the life chances of very many young people every year and helping to lift out of poverty the fortunate communities where they operate.

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Coronavirus closes Humanist Schools in Uganda

Coronavirus was brought to Uganda a few days ago with passengers alighting from a flight from Dubai. There are now, on 27 May, 18 confirmed cases – all related in some way to the flight arrivals.

Uganda is used to dealing with epidemics. In recent years it has had to cope with outbreaks of HIV/AIDS, Cholera and Ebola. The country has a good health care system with many well-trained professionals, but it is underresourced. Uganda has always been open to the public about new infections and uses radio, TV, social media and national newspapers to encourage appropriate public health responses (such as hand washing shown in the picture from New Vision newspaper). Bobi Wine a musician, politician and campaigner has brought out a coronavirus campaign song, which you can see and hear on this link:

https://youtu.be/PUHrck2g7Ic

If any country in Africa ia able to minimise the impact then Uganda is the one.

The government has acted quickly, preparing the ground even before the first coronavirus case arrived in Uganda. People were told about the symptoms and about the importance of thorough hand washing and social distancing. Since the virus arrived in Uganda measures have been ramped up. All schools and educational institutions have been closed. Large social gatherings have been banned. Shops and markets have been closed, and public bus and boda-boda (motorbike taxi) services have been shut down. A cordon sanitaire has been thrown around Kampala, with severe restrictions on movement in and out.

Along with other schools, the Humanist Schools have been forced to close. The police visited Mustard Seed School to ensure that students had been sent home. Initial closure is for one month, but experience from other countries suggests the closure will last longer. There has been an immediate hit on school income. With no students in school, no fee income is being paid and yet teachers and other staff still need to be paid. This is a crisis for the schools, which were doing so well. Uganda Humanist Schools Trust has stepped in to help with supplementary grants for Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed Schools and we have sent hardship money to help the teachers at Katumba Parents Humanist Nursery and Primary School. The money we are giving is drawn from funds set aside for important new infrastructure. If it goes on for long, we will be struggling to keep the staff of the schools together. If you would like to help the schools to get through this, then you can make a donation by clicking “Continue reading” in the box below:

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Humanist Schools give young people a lifeline to a better future

The 2019 Uganda Certificate in Education (O-Level) results for the Humanist Schools, published recently, showed a further improvement on the previous year. Improving educational standards at Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed Schools see them rising up the school league tables. The two schools are giving more and more young people from poor backgrounds the life changing opportunity that a good education based on positive values can bring.

  1. Each school entered just over 100 students for the exam in 2019. 56.2% of the students of Isaac Newton gained either an aggregate grade 1 or 2 (just over double the national figure). 34.6% of Mustard Seed students gained this level, compared with 26% nationally.
  2. The only failures in the two schools were a handful of students who could not, due to family difficulties, complete their final year of schooling. Nationally 12.8% of students fail outright.
  3. It is particularly pleasing that both schools bring up more of the weaker students to at least a Grade 3. Where nationally just below half of the cohort (43%) gain the lowest level pass at grade 4. At Mustard Seed only 2% gained the lowest grade pass and over 60% gained a creditable grade 3, compared with 23 % nationally. At Isaac Newton just 16.2% gained the lowest pass grade.
  4. For both schools there was a substantial improvement in the overall profile of grades since 2018. (See table of results below)

Moses Kamya, the Director of Mustard Seed School, points out that many of their students have performed well despite difficult personal circumstances.

“One of our girls who has done particularly well is Viola Mbeiza. Her father died, so Viola lived with her Mum. After doing well at primary school, she stayed at home for a year because she had no money for secondary school fees. I heard her story and offered her a UHST scholarship to study at Mustard Seed. Viola loves the school and thrived with us but then disaster struck in her second year. She sustained serious back injuries after falling into a pit at home. She needed ongoing medical attention and missed a lot of school. However, Viola always made up her schoolwork, and her determination was rewarded when she passed O level with the highest division 1. A local politician has managed to secure sponsorship to enable Viola to move on to a course in nursing and midwifery. 

Simon Baidu has also completed his secondary schooling with us. He was also raised by a single mum. They lived in a simple house in Busota trading centre. She earns a meagre income selling chapatis at our school. Simon was a day student. He would occasionally help his mum to roll a single egg omelette in a chapati to make Rolex, not a watch but a popular local street food. Simon’s primary schooling was poor, so he joined the school in S1 with only a third grade in his primary leaving certificate. We would not normally accept someone with such a low grade, but Simon had something about him that suggested promise. We were delighted when he gained a Grade 1 in his O-level examinations and, even more so, when he secured a scholarship to study for his A-levels at a good school in Jinja. His mum is so happy at his achievement. His success, when he gets a job, could help to lift the whole family out of poverty.”

 

Aggregate
Grade (%)
Uganda Mustard Seed Secondary Isaac Newton High
2018 2019 2018 2019 2018 2019
1 8.4 8.4 8.0 5.0 16.4 20.0
2 16.0 17.6 21.4 29.6 30.2 36.2
3 21.3 23.2 29.3 60.4 30.1 26.6
4 41.5 43.0 41.3 2.0 23.3 16.2
Fail 12.8 7.8 0.0 3.0 0.0 1.0
Roughly 330,000 students take the exams in Uganda.
Mustard Seed cohort increased from 75 in 2018 to 101 in 2019, and Isaac Newton’s increased from 73 to 105.

 

 

 

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Uganda Humanist Schools: A Growing Movement

The first two Humanist Schools in the world were established in Uganda in 2005. A new Directory of Humanist Schools in Uganda reveals that the number of such schools has increased to 12, and more are being established.

All the schools were founded by Ugandans with Humanist values and a strong commitment to the needy communities they serve. Most schools are rural, some quite remote and a number in areas where many family members have died in the most tragic of circumstances.

All schools share the aim of offering a safe, caring and effective learning environment for children who have experienced poverty and insecurity. The Humanist Schools accept a duty of care to every student, who has the right to expect:

  • The highest standard of education, providing the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed for success in the modern world.
  • A happy and purposeful schooling with abundant opportunities for personal development.
  • Teachers who strive hard to develop the capabilities of every student.
  • A safe, disciplined and caring environment, which is free from physical and verbal abuse.
  • Teachers and students who work together in mutual respect.

Furthermore, education in Humanist Schools encourages:

  • freedom of thought and expression;
  • rational enquiry, science and the need to support argument with evidence;
  • human rights, gender and racial equality, and the rights of individuals to choose their personal life stance;
  • high levels of achievement and social responsibility.

Uganda Humanist Schools Trust is organising an International Friendship Visit to some of these schools in August 2020. There will also be an opportunity to attend the 3rd Uganda Humanist Schools Conference at Isaac Newton High School. Places are limited but if you wish to support the schools in their endeavours, are fit and healthy and have the endurance to cope with challenging journeys then please contact stevehurd@uhst.org for further information.

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Cutting the turf on the new Katumba Nursery School

Juma helps with trench digging

We have just heard from Juma Siriwayo that construction of a brand new primary school for the Katumba community on the Congo border of Uganda has started with foundation work on the Nursery section. Weather conditions have been challenging. Very heavy rains have hindered progress. Floods have washed out two key bridges on the road to the school site. Lorries carrying building materials are having to take side roads and ford the River Humya to deliver materials on site.

Uganda National Roads Authority have set up a work camp to repair the roads and bridges that have been affected by the floods, but it will take until March before things are back to normal.
The attached photos show initial work on the site. They show materials being delivered to the site, tanks for storing water, and Juma helping to dig trenches for the foundations. Juma reports that: “The builder is doing really good work and the Directors, other parents and local leaders are helping and organising close supervision to ensure that all the work is done perfectly. Our whole community is happy with this amazing initiative and we are very grateful to the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust (UHST) team for their decision and commitment to support our community with a new school. It is the first of its kind in this community. We really feel proud of the school site. Due to its location and altitude, no part of it was affected by floods and we have high hopes that buildings on the site will endure to serve the needs of many future generations of children.

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A New Primary School for the Katumba Community

Land donated for new Katumba School

If ever a community deserved a new school for their children, it is the parents of Katumba, a small village in the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains, overlooking the troubled Eastern Province of the Congo.

5 years ago, the community was ripped apart when an insurrection, led by a Congolese witchdoctor, resulted in the deaths of 100 of the village men, and left behind destitute wives and children. The mothers, and remaining families, could no longer afford the fees charged by established schools, so they came together in a huge community effort to build their own Katumba Parents’ School. Rejecting the superstitions and witchcraft that had brought the community so many problems, the school runs on Humanist principles, inspired by Juma Siriwayo, a young Parent Director. The classrooms are crude temporary structures, made from wood hewn from the surrounding forests and the small plot of land is subject to flash floods. However, the native-born teachers have shown great commitment and ingenuity.

When we visited the school in 2018 and 2019 we were astonished by the high standard of the children’s spoken English and by the enthusiastic and happy atmosphere in which they were learning. This has contributed to very good results in the Primary Leaving Certificate, enabling a few of the best pupils to attend Isaac Newton High School, where they are proving to be star students.

Following our enthusiastic report about the school, two long-standing supporters of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust have pledged £80,000 to the construction of a new school on a more suitable site. The land was donated by Teopista Nanganda, a Director of the school, who is also grandmother to a number of the pupils. After a number of iterations, we have agreed with the parents a plan for the new school (below) and a programme to complete the building work in 4 phases over 3 to 4 years. The proposals have brought hope to everyone involved with the school and, indeed, to the whole community. The school’s construction, which will start immediately, will create employment and put much-needed income into a community which deserves a better future.

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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.

Coffee hit by wilt disese

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.

 

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Humanist Schools Making their Mark in Uganda

Here is a link to Uganda Humanist Schools Trust’s Annual Report for 2018-2019.

https://uhst.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/19-UHST-Annual-Report-2018-2019r.pdf

It is a little longer than previous reports and reflects the huge amount that has been going on in the schools, helped by the proceeds of our 10th Anniversary Building Appeal. The schools have improved beyond recognition and students and staff are delighted with their progress. Although there is always more to do, the time has come to widen our focus.

In Uganda, interest in Humanism is growing apace. There are now 11 Humanist schools and we are planning to bring them together in August 2020 for a 3rd Uganda Humanist Schools Conference. Those schools that are serious and willing to develop sound governance will be welcomed into Uganda Humanist Schools Association and become eligible for support from UHST.

UHST’s  immediate priority is to help Katumba Parents’ Humanist Primary School, 3km from the Congo border, to build an entirely new school, at an estimated cost of £80,000. 100 fathers from the school were killed in fighting 5 years ago, leaving behind distressed and destitute mothers to care for 180 children. They showed great resolve and came together to build a school using timber hewn from nearby forests. The parents manage the school and employ the teachers from the locality. They show a remarkable commitment to Humanism, which they see as a way of fighting black magic and superstition and achieving a better life for their children.

The success of first Humanist schools has encouraged new schools to follow in their wake, and we want to help them. Raising funds to support them is our priority and we need all the help we can get. If you belong to a local Humanist or other kindred group, then do please tell them about the developments in Uganda. All assistance we receive will be put to good use. Every pound given is used to support the school projects in Uganda.

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The Family of Humanist Schools in Uganda is Growing

We have just returned from a 3-week visit to Uganda, where we visited some of the growing band of Humanist Schools.

A-Level Chemistry Practical

Isaac Newton High School, near Masaka, is a beacon for high education and welfare standards in its District, where it is the 5th best performing school out of 35. Its visionary and energetic Director, Peter Kisirinya, and the school’s hardworking and talented staff are determined to make it even better. Recent site additions, including a fine new teaching block with 3 additional classrooms and a well-equipped science lab and a second boys’ hostel nearing completion, make the school well-equipped for teaching 600 students, with two classes (North and South) in each O-level year. The school has a thriving Humanist Student Association, which works to improve life in the local villages and promotes First Aid skills with help from the Red Cross.

Winners of Reading for Pleasure Competition

Mustard Seed Secondary School, near Kamuli, is also rapidly becoming the school of choice in its area where, in 2018, the national examination results placed the school 6th out of over 30 schools in its District. As at Isaac Newton School, two-thirds of students board, while the rest walk to school from the vicinity. Uganda Humanist Schools Trust’s supporters fund around 60 boarding places in each school. They are allocated to bright children from the most-needy homes. The school has an active sports programme for boys and girls. The boys are proud of their achievement in winning the District CocaCola cup championship this year. There is an active scouting group, which has performed well in competitions around Uganda and in Rwanda. Simon Bogere, the school’s Humanist Counsellor, has just qualified as a Humanist Celebrant and has officiated at his first Humanist wedding.

Primary Children in the Rukoki School

Kasese Humanist School is the umbrella for 3 primaries and a secondary school. They are run by Robert Bwambale, who has an active and inspiring Humanist presence on Facebook. After two attempts in rented buildings in Kilembe, known for mining copper and cobalt, and in the disused railway station in Kasese, Robert bought land next to the Rukoki River and established a permanent primary school which currently educates 69 boys and 70 girls. Two years ago, alongside the primary school he founded a small secondary school, which educates 51 students. He has also constructed a small orphanage (Bizoha), in Mohokya to the south of Kasese, which provides a home for 12 orphan children; a cause dear to Robert’s heart as he himself was orphaned as a young child. Next to the orphanage a successful primary school with 245 children is ably led by their headteacher, Phiona Ngabirwe, who has just completed her Diploma in Education, with help from Uganda Humanist Schools Trust supporters. Another project caters for really needy children of primary age from the destitute fishing village of Kahendero, on Lake George. Unfortunately, the school roll has fallen this year from 200 to 120 after government officials confiscated boats and fishing nets after alleged illegal fishing. Robert has built his schools on a shoestring. He educates really needy children, charging very low fees and subsidising the schools from the proceeds of a number of small businesses. UHST helps the Kasese schools by providing funds for books and science materials. The schools have a strong Humanist ethos and their two best students, for the past 5 years, have been awarded UHST scholarships to attend Isaac Newton Humanist School, near Masaka, where they are among the best performing students in the school as well as being exemplary for their Humanist life stances.

Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School was set up 4 years ago in a small village 3km from the Congo border in the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains, the fabled Mountains of the Moon. The initiative came from a group of

Site for new Katumba School

parents,  Maate Hassan, Irumba Juma Siriwayo and Matte Elisha Ssebaddu, who were desperate to provide a decent education for their children. These three provided their own land for the school and created a group of parents to manage it. Using what little money they could muster and using timber cut from local forests they constructed make-shift classrooms with earth floors and opened the school in 2010. In a failed insurrection in 2014 many people in the area were killed, including 100 fathers from the school, leaving 180 children to be brought up by their mothers alone. In that year, disillusioned with religion and witchcraft, the school adopted a Humanist constitution and set out to combat superstition and the influence of local witch-doctors and clerics. The school educates over 200 children and remarkably some of them attain Grade 1 in their primary leaving certificates. Since 2018, UHST has contributed towards the school fees of the 180 orphans and we have given the school money to buy books. We have also provided scholarships to enable 3 children to pursue secondary education at Isaac Newton Humanist School near Masaka. The school has registered as a not-for-profit company and UHST has a Director. During our visit this year we were shown a large, flat plot of land that a parent has given for the building of a new school. We are currently considering whether our charity might be able to raise the resources to help them realise this ambition.

UHST is also corresponding with a number of other schools that embrace a Humanist ethos including:

Pearl Vocational Training College – established by Kato Mukasa, Chair of Uganda Humanist Association (UHASSO) – which teaches a wide range of vocational skills.

Kanungu Secular Schools: Comprising Kanungu Humanist Primary School and Rugyeyo Community High School founded by Robert Magara in an area affected by cult killings.

Kasito Vocational College – established by Kisehya Bebson in Bukonzo District near Kasese.

In addition to these, there are a number of other schools in the West of Uganda that are getting help to adopt a Humanist ethos from Hank Pellissier, from the Brighter Brains Institute in the USA.

Given the rapid growth in the number of Humanist schools in Uganda, UHST will be funding a 3rd Uganda Humanist Schools Conference in January 2020. The 3-day conference will be held from Tuesday 21st to Thursday 23rd January

at Isaac Newton High School. It will bring together the full-time teachers from those schools that belong to Uganda Humanist Schools Association, with two representatives from the each of the wider group of schools that have not yet become members.

Teachers at Last Humanist Schools Conference

The conference will enable teachers from the different schools to meet together and share ideas. They will revisit the materials developed a few years ago in the Humanist Ethos Project and refine and extend them. Workshops will be held to finalise the syllabus and materials for a new course on Humanist Philosophy, Society and the Global Environment to be taught to senior 1 and 2 students in Humanist schools. The Raising Voices Project team will lead workshops on how to develop school disciplinary procedures based on empathy and personal responsibility. The final day of the conference will focus on the theme, Raising Educational Standards in Humanist Schools. This will be led by academics from the School of Education at Makerere University, and primary and secondary school examiners and curriculum developers. We are hoping the conference will energise the participants and send them away feeling that they are part of an exciting common endeavour to open young minds by exposing them to liberal secular humanist education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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