About St. Mary's Primary School

Seeta Nazigo - Uganda


 

The school is located in Uganda, Mukono District, Nakisunga sub-county, Seeta Nazigo Parish, Kirwanyi village. It is situated on Catholic mission land of about three acres.

The land was given to the catholic community by the late Bujumbuko Kaweesa, a former prominent chief of the king of Buganda Daudi II. The school is as old as the church next to it (Saint Jude Thaddeus Church). Both were established by a German priest Rev. Perre Kerkoof in 1921. The pupils had lessons under a mango tree, which still exists today and they used the church building only during a rain storm. The original building had a grass thatched roof, mud walls, a dusty floor infested with fleas and giggers. Every Friday the children used to smear the floor with cow dung, and used to sit on mats made from banana fibres, palm leaves and papyrus.

 

St Mary's Primary School Today

St Mary’s Primary school is one of the numerous community schools which are striving to fill the gap in education access for the poorest of the poor in Uganda. Community primary schools plug a serious gap in the Ugandan education system – children who are not served by a government school and cannot afford a place in a private institution. As the name implies, community schools are created and supported by local communities. However, because these communities are among the poorest in the country, the schools are vastly over-crowded and lack even the most basic amenities (teaching supplies, school meals, sanitation, structurally sound walls and roofs, etc.). Many of the children come to school hungry, or are with chronic health care problems.

A large proportion of community school students have lost one or both parents to AIDS. These children face additional obstacles, from the trauma experienced in nursing their dying parents to the stigma of disapproving neighbours and officials. Some were themselves infected at birth with HIV. Experience has proven that many need emotional and psychological support to help them truly benefit from schooling. 

Parents and neighbours contribute whatever they have for the development of the school, but this comes mostly in the form of labour. The children are expected to contribute a small amount as  tuition fees, but close to  60% of the total enrolment end up failing to raise this amount. Their parents then contribute in kind or through labour to grow food for the children.

When we started this project the school had only one classroom block- constructed several years ago through a donation from UNAIDS (left picture ). This block houses four of the eight classes. The rest of the pupils attended classes under a mango tree or in a dilapidated wooden structure which was constructed by the community (right picture).

 

Through our fundraising we have constructed a new block, a kitchen and storage room and accommodation for the head teacher and six teachers. We have also built a library, improved the guttering for water collection and improved and built pit latrines. We have had a number of   volunteers who taught at the school and helped the general organization and running of the school.

Most urgent needs include:

  • Teachers salaries. Teachers often don’t get paid because children fail to pay their fees. As a consequence they often leave to work elsewhere.

  • Teachers training- not all of the teachers have teacher training. Apart from the standard teacher training they need training in  counselling and modern, child-centred methods. Non-discrimination (particularly against orphans and the poorest students), solidarity, and respect – between teachers and students, and between students – are part of the environment designed to make learning as effective and enjoyable as possible.

  • Improve feeding and housing for the children and help the poorest families. The children attend school form 8:30 to 4:30 pm. The school fees vary from £16 a year for P1 to £26 for P7 including one mug of porridge a day (which is often the only meal of the day). We have estimated that the total cost to keep a child in school varies form £34 to £68 a year (including school uniform, exercise books, pencils, test sets, exam papers). See our estimate here.

 

Where did all this start?

 

Phiona and I got married in Mukono (Uganda) in December 2008. We wanted to do something useful for the local community so we decided to give up our wedding presents and ask our friends and family to do something better with their money. With help from Noerine Kaleeba (Phiona's mother) we found this primary school just outside Mukono.We visited the school with our friends and family and we all realised how badly this school needed help. Through our wedding fund we raised 1000 euros kindly donated by our relatives and friends in Switzerland, Sardinia, Malaysia, Spain and England. We opened a current account for the school in Mukono, we appointed a treasurer and a management committee and we started to build the foundations of a new block. Since then we have received many more donations. Many people don't like the idea of donating money to big charities because they feel it gets wasted along the way to Africa. They feel that if there was a way to send money straight to the people in need they would donate more. We are trying to do just this, collect the money and send it straight to the school, and we are asking our family in Uganda to keep us informed and send us photos of the progress. So far we have raised over £30,000 which has been used to build new classrooms, teachers accommodation, toilets, library and for the children general health (de-worming, skin diseases, etc).