Juma Siriwayo, Director of Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School, has just sent the following encouraging report of work being undertaken by the school amidst disruptions caused by Covid and torrential rain flooding access roads.
“It is with much pleasure and gratitude that I am happy to report that the funds that UHST and Humanist Aid (Sweden) have provided during this second wave of Covid school closures have provided a lifeline to our school and community.
They have enabled us to pay our staff 50% of their salaries and to provide emergency food parcels when needed. Our school is the only one in our District to do this and our staff are very grateful.
Our schoolchildren are happy to have received self-study materials, which enable them to learn at home during school closure.
Construction workers, who have had to camp at the school site to reduce the chances of Covid transmission, have been supplied with food and other essentials
3 additional hand washing-points have been set up at the construction site. We also distributed soap to our staff to emphasise the importance of good hand hygiene.
We finished the 4-classroom block for Junior classes and work on the admin block, library and computer room is well advanced.
We have started work on the process to acquiring a licence for the new school, this involves meetings with education officials, locally and in Kampala (which is 10 hours away by bus) and paying for inspection teams to visit the new school site.
The construction of a new school, and one built to such a good standard, is a major event in our District. To celebrate the start of the final phase of building we hosted a large media event, and reports appeared in local newspapers and on radio. Our teachers, parents, children, and the whole Katumba Community are proud of their new school and grateful for the huge investment that UHST supporters have made in our remote and previously neglected community. They see it as a demonstration of Humanist values in action.”
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.
Like all other schools in Uganda, Mustard Seed Humanist Primary and Secondary schools are enduring a 42-day closure, in an attempt by the Ugandan government to break transmission of the Delta-variant of Covid.
The schools’ Director, Moses Kamya, has just sent this update on the Covid situation:
“We are two weeks into the 42-day lockdown. Hope it won’t be extended further. We rarely move out of our homes. I travel to Kamuli once a week, after getting a permit from the authorities, to check on the school and staff.
Many people in Kamuli are getting infected but most are responding to treatment. A few people with existing health conditions are dying, but the death rate overall remains quite low. Our askaris are out of danger. The one who was most badly affected and had to go into intensive care is now digging his garden again. One of my cousins was also recently discharged from intensive care at Jinja hospital and he is doing well. However, his wife remains in ICU and is quite sick.
The government wants to intensify the vaccination programme, but it is hampered by poor supplies – the ban on exports from India has made things difficulties as has the unwillingness of many rich countries to release the surplus vaccines they hold. The national drug authority has permitted a professor of Mbarara University to make and sell a drug called covidex that seems to mitigate covid-19 symptoms. Many people are also using dexamethasone, which is cheap and widely available here.
Meanwhile we continue to observe social distancing, handwashing, avoid crowds, sanitise and wear masks in public. We will hopefully overcome.
Despite the restrictions imposed by Covid we have been trying to keep work on the school sites moving forward. At the primary school we have created walkways, so that less dirt and mud are brought into the classrooms. When the rains come next month, we will plant more grass and trees to make the compound a pleasanter place for both children and teachers. When we took over the primary school last month, the toilets were in a poor state. We are making good progress on constructing new Blair toilets, with ventilated pits. The walls are made and all that remains is roofing, plastering and doors. Hopefully they will have been completed and ready for use by the end of the month.
It will be good to get Covi-19 behind us and return to developing our Humanist Schools. The community wants us to be back, caring for their children and providing the education they need.”