stevehurd@uhst.org Uganda Humanist Schools Trust

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.

 

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.

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.