Uganda Humanist Schools Trust: Charity No 1128762

New bike makes work easier

This month Mustard Seed School bought a new bike. It was made possible by a specific donation to UHST from a member of Leicester Secular Society. Bicycles are highly prized in Africa. They make many jobs easier and have no running costs.

The following message from Moses Kamya, Director of the school, explains how they are already putting their new acquisition to use:

MS John Catt BikeWe bought the bicycle. It is already proving to be very useful in carrying water to the kitchen, carrying garbage to the dust bin, procuring supplies from the nearby trading center, transporting sick children to the nearby clinic, taking maize grown on the school farm for milling, transporting staff to nearby locations, etc. The attached picture shows Samuel, our cleaner and odd-job man, taking water to the kitchen. Please pass our sincere appreciation for the kind donation.”

Impressions of the Humanist schools from UK visitor

Chris Smith, retired maths teacher, supporter of UHST and one time VSO Uganda volunteer has sent this informal update from her recent visit to the Humanist Schools in Uganda.

DSC03936My recent visit to Uganda came 6 years after my first arrival.  I had already known about the Humanist Schools; by the end of my placement I knew Isaac Newton, Masaka, quite well; it was only a 3 ½ hour drive and I had my own vehicle.  In 2012 I joined the Friendship visit and managed to get to Mustard Seed, Kamuli, for the first time.  But I still hadn’t really been to any of the schools as a Maths teacher and that niggled.

I visited independently in February this year, at the start of the academic year, spending a week each at Isaac Newton (Masaka campus) and Mustard Seed.

I found that Primary Leaving Exam results were out late so S1 were only just starting to register.  “O” level results were very overdue, so S5 (lower sixth) hadn’t started.

I observed lessons, Venn Diagrams loom large on the Ugandan curriculum, tedious and artificial, but other topics were more lively.  When “supplementing” lessons I asked why and how questions.  Rote learning is at the heart of Ugandan teaching, there are large classes and few resources; this can work well for Maths but there is a loss of independent thinking and flexibility.

S6 students (the A level year) sought me out when I was not in other classes. At INHS I was amazed by the standard already achieved by some of the students; they asked me about exam questions which they found difficult, I counted the years since I last taught at that level and consulted text books.  Students at Mustard Seed were not as advanced, but I team taught with one of their teachers and found him to be highly professional both in the content of the lessons and the non-dogmatic way he communicated with the students.

So far so ordinary.  I introduced experimental probability, coins were spun, dice rolled.  Initially students were very hesitant, out of their comfort zone.  I presented some of the questions I have used with my U3A “Numbers and Stuff” group; these led them to think in different ways.  I spoke to teachers about positive discipline, giving praise, quick ways to assess the progress of whole classes.

DSC03962At Mustard Seed the director asked me to speak to the boarders, boys and girls separately, about Humanism but emphasising the importance of females staying in school, avoiding early sex and pregnancy.  I told them about my life so far; emphasising my humble origins, being the first person in my family to be able to stay on at school after 14 and the difference that had made to my opportunities; that I have only two children so we could do our best for them and so I could work at my chosen profession.  I asked what they thought education could give them.  I explained that Humanists don’t have a rule book or leader, consider they can use reason to decide how to live well, can be friends to people of any religious belief or none, did not fear hell or try to act well just to reach heaven.  I emphasised that the Humanist Schools welcome staff and students who followed any religion, or no religion, equally.

Buildings, equipment and infrastructure have improved and numbers of students have increased; the purposeful atmosphere is just the same and what I most enjoy about my visits.

Uganda has very many places of worship; some explicitly offer cures and wealth, it is the churches themselves that benefit.  Religious belief is often used as the excuse for persecution of “the other”, homosexuals the most extreme example at present, and it often overlays superstition, acceptance of witchcraft, inappropriate treatments from local healers.

Can the Humanist Schools make a difference?  Emphatically, yes.  Anything we can do to demonstrate atheists being generous and trying to lead good lives, and to encourage the use of reason rather than dogma is worth the effort.

Chris SmithFebruary, 2014

Record number of scholarships awarded

In 2014 UHST supporters have provided scholarships for 126 children at the Humanist schools in Uganda. This is the largest number we have been able to offer in a year. The scholarships enable bright children in difficult circumstances  to have the opportunity of secondary education.They cover school fees, uniform and school food.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe schools in Uganda advertise the scholarships by leafleting families in villages around their schools, through local primary schools and on local radio. Applicants are screened on the basis of their results in the primary leaving certificate and personal circumstances. Shortlisted children are invited to visit the schools with family members or guardians – many children have lost one or both parents and are being cared for by other members of the family, often grandparents, and sometimes by completely unrelated friends of the family who have taken them in after the loss of parents. The photograph shows a meeting with family members and guardians at Mustard Seed School in February.

Since Isaac Newton High School, Masaka and Mustard Seed School, Busota now have girls hostels we have introduced, in 2014, boarding scholarships at the rate of £300 a year. They cover tuition fees, boarding and food, medical care, uniforms and out of hours supervision and activities. They are suited to very needy students who have lost both parents or who have particularly difficult home circumstances. United States sponsors have provided 8 boarding scholarships specifically for orphan girl students, 6 for Isaac Newton School and 2 for Mustard Seed. A UK supporter is providing similar support to two orphan girls boarding at Mustard Seed School. Such scholarships provide an opportunity for children in pretty hopeless circumstances to transform their life chances.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Mustard Seed scholarship has been allocated to a 13 year old boy called Sowedi. He is an orphan who has lost both his parents. Sowedi is being looked after by his grand father who makes a meagre living selling used clothes in rural markets. Before the opportunity of a scholarship was presented, the grand father had decided that Sowedi would have to find something else to do instead of school since there was no money for school fees. However, Moses Kamya, the School Director, could see that Sowedi was a bright boy with ambition and offered him a place at Mustard Seed School. Sowedi is relishing every moment at the school.

In 2014 42 scholarships were allocated to Isaac Newton High School, Masaka. This includes 2 for the two highest achieving pupils from Kasese Humanist Primary School. Isaac Newton High School, Mpigi, which has no hostel facilities, has been awarded 38 day scholarships. Finally, Mustard Seed School has 46 scholarships.The scholarship programme, while helping children in need, has also, by being selective, helped to raise the quality of students entering the school for the past two years. This should result over time in a progressive improvement in overall school outcomes.

If you would like to help students like Sowdi then please consider providing a day scholarship (£120 a year) or a boarding scholarship (£300 a year). For further information email: Hilary Hurd at (tel. +44 (0) 1782 750338).