The Ugandan school year runs from February through November, so the 2017 school year has just come to an end. From October 19 through October 25, Charlie and Susan Roscoe visited St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School and Panyadoli Secondary School in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement in the Northwest region of Uganda. Both schools are organized as community schools, each governed by its own School Management Committee. The schools receive no financial support from the government of Uganda.
The Settlement, which is run by the United Nations, is part of a former cattle ranching area. Land there was set aside by the Ugandan government for use by refugees in 1990. The first transfers of refugees took place shortly afterwards, and the settlement now is full with 60,000 refugees, mostly from South Sudan, with land divided into plots on which people have built houses and cultivated crops on a small scale.
Our 715 St. Bakhita students perform well, with many achieving a Level II (equivalent to a B) average on the Uganda national examinations. Of the many schools in the Settlement, St. Bakhita has the only nursery program (three classrooms for ages 3, 4 and 5). The head start our students receive carries through Primary 7 and, along with good attendance, good behavior, family and community support, committed teachers, and support from Schools for Refugees, prepares the students for continuing education.
During our visit we attended a soccer match between boys in Primary 6 and Primary 7 and observed the weekly debate between selected teams of students. Teams in both competitions were cheered on by the entire student body. The debate topic was whether technology is good or bad. We also met with the St. Bakhita agriculture and sanitation clubs, There are many activities, including interscholastic competitions, in which most students in the upper grades participate.
As always, we invite supporters to join us on visits to the schools. Please let us know if you are interested, and we’ll line up a side trip or two as well.
Bowdoin College Student Visitors
In July, Osborn Ng’imor, a Bowdoin College senior from Kenya, and Lizzie Givens from Charlottesville, Virginia, a recent graduate of Bowdoin College, spent two weeks at St. Bakhita School. Their visit is chronicled on the Schools for Refugees web site. One highlight was building a vegetable garden, complete with fencing and a water collection system, to provide variety in the noon meals for students and teachers. Lizzie taught a class in each of the seven Primary grades. In spite of the different English dialects, the students and teachers considered the interactions memorable and enjoyable events.
Osborn is an information technology major. He worked with teachers to help them improve their basic computer skills. He is making recommendations concerning future purchases and training which will help assure a relevant and efficient technology plan. A major limitation is lack of reliable power. SFR and the PTA are in the process of addressing this issue, and as capital funds are identified, progress should be made.
Added Stress in the Settlement
Life in the Settlement has become more stressful as the population has increased. Most of the new arrivals are from South Sudan, where a civil war has been escalating since 2012 and famine is taking hold. When SFR was started in 2010, the population of the Settlement was 5,000, and the majority of residents were members of the peaceful Acholi tribe. Now the Settlement is full, with a population of 60,000, and many of the new arrivals are from the warring Dinka and Nuer tribes. Their unrest has transferred to the Settlement. Meetings have been taking place among leaders in the Settlement to find ways to promote peace and handle disagreements. In the meantime, a St. Bakhita teacher communicated to Susan the need to identify and help the school’s emotionally traumatized children. Arrangements have now been made for teacher training to take place in April, during the break between the end of Term 1 and start of Term 2. The trainer will be Piera, a psychiatric nurse at a clinic in the Settlement. Her focus will be training the St. Bakhita teachers to recognize signs of stress and trauma in their students, and providing them with information regarding locally available resources so that students and families can be referred for help.
Request for Sports Uniforms Fulfilled
Sports uniforms for St. Bakhita soccer and netball athletes were donated by the Yarmouth, Maine, School Department’s Athletic Director. There was an intramural soccer game the day we arrived, and the teams were pleased to wear their new uniforms. It was found that they tended to be large for the St. Bakhita players, and the solution will be for a teacher’s wife who has a sewing machine, to make the simple alterations needed for the uniforms to fit. She will be paid by SFR. We consider this a definite win/win!
News from Panyadoli Secondary School
Charlie and Susan visited Panyadoli Self-Help Secondary School, a community run secondary school, which is next door to St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School. From the headmaster. we learned that a new Uganda Government pubic secondary school, directly in competition with Panyadoli, has been opened in the settlement. Panyadoli lost students to the new school because the school, with twice the class size as Panyadoli, charges lower tuition. We were told that as early as 2018, Panyadoli will be taken over by the Uganda Ministry of Education with a probable drop in tuition. This is potentially very good news for graduates of St. Bakhita Primary School , since they could attend Panyadoli for much less money than is currently required. By extension, this would allow SFR to provide more scholarships to St. Bakhita graduates who go on to Panyadoli.
During our visit we also met with three former St. Bakhita scholarship recipients who are now in their first post graduate year at Panyadoli. Charlie asked if they had any school challenges we could help them with, and it came to light (with many follow-up questions from Charlie) that they and their families have been struggling to pay school tuition. Students who have any school debt are not allowed to move to their second and final year. These three young men never asked for our help with this debt, and in fact were reluctant to tell us. The total debt for all three students amounted to $400, which was nearly insurmountable to them. We told them SFR would help them and their families pay their debts so that they could enroll in secondary 6 in 2018. They were shocked and grateful. This is just one example of how much good SFR and its contributors can do. Together, we are all making a difference. ( Please see the newsletter insert which contains letters from two of the students.)