The Story of St James Junior School
and Orphan Care Nakakabla in UGANDA
I have been spending time as a volunteer in Uganda since 2002, living and working at Maria’s Care Children’s Home and the attached school, and for the past six years I have been helping to establish a new primary school in the village of Nakakabala in Kamuli District. I have known James the Head Teacher, for many years as his daughter Moureen was one of the first teachers I worked with in Uganda and she and her family became great friends of mine. Her father James had been living and working away from his village since his wife Joy died in 2001 as he was devastated by her death. In 2008 after Moureen’s wedding which my family and I attended, he decided it was the right time to return to his home and on doing so found that many of the children in his village were still not attending school. Knowing the importance of an education, James decided to set up a school, St James Junior School, at his home.
Over the seven years since it opened the school, set up in very basic classrooms with few facilities, has attracted a gradual flow of children to attend lessons and now has over 300 children between the ages of 5 and 14 on the register as well as thirty orphans living on the premises who would otherwise have no stable home. After a bit of persuasion from James that an education was a good idea for their children, the villagers of Nakakabala have supported the school and helped its growth in many ways, though all the families are very poor.
The school is now registered with the Ministry of Education and has regular inspections. The school is surrounded by fertile swampland that James farms with the help of the older children and which, when the erratic weather allows, provides food crops to enable James to feed the orphans and give every child attending the school a cooked meal, possibly the only meal they get some days!
Through my personal fund-raising and support from my family, friends and many other people including help from several schools, St James has been provided with some desks, books, teaching aids, footballs, latrines, beds and mosquito nets for the orphans, a brick built ‘resource centre’ which serves as the Library, the Head Teachers Office, the Staff Room and where the educational equipment can be kept safe from the weather! This room is also where I sleep when I stay at St James! The first permanent classrooms provided the Nursery and Primary 1 with a comfortable place to start their education.
Goat, pig and chicken projects have also been established so that when the animals produce young they can be sold to raise money for the school making it more and more self-sufficient which is our ultimate aim. Already several offspring of the original goats have been exchanged for six cows! James explained to me that owning cows is the equivalent of having money in the bank! The poultry project both chickens and turkeys will be fattened up for sale though the turkeys are proving to be a challenge as they keep wondering off! The eggs are given to the orphans as a regular source of protein, and any surplus can be sold or exchanged for some of the many necessities such as food and medical treatment for the children.
One of my challenges was to raise enough money to install solar lighting into the school, and I was thrilled to be able to fund the installation of the solar in January 2011. This was very important as the oldest children in Primary 7, aged 14, sit for their Primary Leavers Certificate their first national exams each October, a very important time for them and their school as they will both be judged on the results. In Uganda it is very common for these children to be given lessons before and after school and to do lots of personal study to achieve the best results. They were unable to do this at St James, as there was no electricity in the area and therefore no lighting for lessons or reading books. Being very near the equator the sun goes down at 7.00 every day so studying in the evening is out of the question. The Ugandan government has started to provide secondary education in some areas so the children want to attain good results from their primary schools before they have a chance of moving on. Now that they have lighting the children can gain maximum benefit from their education. This facility is not only be good for the school but also enables the local people to use the buildings for community meetings. With the wonderful support I received I also purchased mosquito nets for all the children who attend the school. My ambition is to eventually provide every young child and expectant mum in the area with a mosquito net as Malaria is still by far the biggest killer of these two groups in Uganda and Nakakabala is near swampland that provides an ideal breeding ground for the mosquito! Many parents in Uganda don’t name their children until they reach the age of 5 because many of them die of Malaria! A gift of one mosquito net often protects several children, sometimes even a whole family as they share a bed or sleeping mat. Therefore protecting many from sickness and undoubtedly saving many lives! The more nets the more children are saved from this terrible disease. I was thrilled to be able to purchase 300 nets and personally delivered over a hundred of them during my stay in January 2011.
I am proud that I and my supporters, have provided the school with the material assistance but the success of the school mostly comes down to the dedication of James and his staff and the hard work and enthusiasm of the children who know the value of the education they have been offered at St James. They will not waste the opportunity to get good grades in what are their Primary Leaving Exams, coming away with the ‘P7 Slip’ – a very valued document. The next challenge was to provide permanent brick classrooms for the older children, as the temporary ones are open to the elements and I have personally experienced several times when I have been teaching in them! At the moment the classrooms are divided by low walls of rough wood, with open sides offering no protection from the wind, rain and massive storms they have during the rainy season. Everyone can hear and see what is going on in the other classes that makes teaching and concentration very difficult. Also none of the teaching aids we have provided can be put up on the walls.
One way of providing both the good quality classrooms for the children and earning money for the school was to build a block of four classrooms where the dividing walls would open up to create a large hall. The hall when complete will be registered as a National Examination Centre so that the children can sit their Primary Leaving Exams there, as at the moment James has to find the funds to transport the children to an examination centre some distance away. Also as there are no facilities like this in the area it could be hired out for weddings, clan and council meetings, etc. all of which would raise much needed funds. So once again our local primary schools and many friends have risen to the challenge to help build the classroom block raising enough money over the past two years to pay for the building. The children of St James do as much as they can to help with the building. They look forward to having a comfortable classroom. Just the plastering, floor and dividing doors were left to be done!
Now complete the four classrooms need to be furnished so we are now raising money for black boards, teachers tables and chairs, and 200 desks for the children. These are combination table and bench desks and are single seats so they can be used for the National Leaving Exams. With everyone’s help over the next year or so I hope we can see the children at St James having their lessons in a safe and comfortable environment just as the children in the UK do.
There is still quite a way to go but this was a wonderful start to what will be a fantastic asset to the school and community. In the mean time two other important issues came to light during my stay at St James last September/October. These are the need for a fresh water source and also for lightening conductors. The old village borehole which served both the school and 500 families in the village has broken down several times over the past two years and although we have put money towards its repair each time, we have been told that it is not worth repairing now. We are lucky that a friend of the school has a borehole on his land and has given St James permission to use it but it take 20-30 minutes to walk there and a lot longer coming back with loaded jerry cans! I know this as I went with the children on several occasions very early in the morning when they did their water collection before the sun got up.
Because of the need for a lot of water for over 300 pupils daily plus the orphans actually living at St James, the children have to collect water several times a day. Even with all the fund raising I did before my visit we could not afford to sink a borehole. In fact when James and I spoke to the older children about the problem, telling them we have enough money to either carry on with the building of the classroom block or to start the preparation for a borehole, they chose the classrooms. Their reply really surprised me at the time though it shouldn’t have done as these children really value the chance of an education and never shy away from hard work! I do hope that one day soon we can afford to sink a borehole in the school compound and provide the clean water they so much deserve. To alleviate the water problem a little, a young supporter Geminy Maw who is taking a gap year in New Zealand raised enough money to have a rainwater harvester installed at one end of the new classroom block. We also added a First Flush Diverter which cleans the roof with the first ‘flush’ of rain and then redirects the cleaner water into a tank. This of course is only useful during the rainy season but as the dry seasons seem to be getting longer causing devastating drought conditions, it is only a stop gap but at least it is a help.
I became aware of the need to install lightening conductors when I read an article in a Ugandan newspaper which told of a school which had been struck by lightening and many children suffered severe burns and some even died. With the metal roofs the children and adults at St James and of course myself during my visits to Uganda, are all at risk of the same thing happening to us. I made enquires about how common these lightening strikes are and was amazed at how many people particularly children in schools have suffered this terrible experience. So I couldn’t rest until we had had the lightening conductors installed. I hope you have enjoyed learning about St James and that you will support one or more of the many challenges that lie ahead to create a good, caring and academically successful school. Their needs are many but I am sure that over the next few years we can help to improve their lives even more. Together with the hard work of James, his staff and the local people, I know we will make a big difference. Please note that I am not a charity but just an individual working to make the lives of some children in Uganda a little better. I would be going out to Uganda to work at St James even if I did not have donations for the school but any money I do raise, and I have been very lucky with the support I’ve received, I take out to Uganda personally, decide along with James and his staff what is needed and then make sure it goes to where it is supposed to go! There is no ‘middle man’ and I do not deduct anything for my expenses. It is my holiday each year!
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope you enjoy learning about St James.
News to January 2012