Last Updated on: 17th November 2023, 08:28 pm
Alebtong I Schools from across Uganda are at the climax of term three of the academic year 2023, according to the Ministry of Education and Sports. However, not all learners were advantaged as some had to learn under tree shades to ensure a brighter future.
In Genbadi village, Akura parish, Akura sub-county in Moroto County, Alebtong district, parents and three retired teachers opened a school under mango trees for children to equally access education.
The aim was to assist those who could not trek to schools as far as 6 km from their different homes.
With a current enrollment of 680 learners, Acekene Community Nursery and Primary School located in the remote village of Genbadi started running in 2023 with 13 teachers.
Yet with the motto, “Education for Development”, the school has no furniture for either the staff or learners. Children sit on mango tree leaves or logs while using the laps to support their writing.
The origin and genesis of Acekene Community Nursery and Primary school
Mr. Levison Onyala, the chairperson of the School Management Committee (SMC) narrates that his late father, Mzee Nasinera Abuka and late mother Margaret Abuka, allocated 16 hectares of his land to the community to establish a community school in 2001 before he died in 2004.
“In 2008, I sat my siblings down and shared with them our parents’ last will of donating land for the establishment of Acekene Community Nursery and Primary School. We equally went for the approval of the cultural leaders,” says Onyala.
Onyala reveals that a community meeting attended by local and cultural leaders (by then), and parents was organized to support the good cause of establishing the willed community school.
While willing, the deceased and his children had an aim of educating children of the locality who could not walk for about 6km to access education.
“Children here used to travel about 6kms and this in the long run forced many learners out of school, especially the girl child,” Onyala recalls.
According to Onyala, the school started operating with an enrolment of 430 learners, 9 members of the Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) led by Mzee Logino Otili (by then) and 10 teachers with some qualified and others not. But unfortunately, he says, they (teachers) were taken up by the government that rather hit the school real hard.
Sitting on a 16-hectare land, Onyala adds that the school also started with one borehole, 13 desks, and grass-thatched houses which acted as classes.
What does the new leadership say?
Top Stephen Omara, the head teacher narrates that the community school started with support from two other retired teachers and parents.
“Parents needed having us back in the village to elevate the education levels that had drastically dropped,” he says, adding that the school collapsed when he was still teaching under the government.
“Retired teachers Mr. Obua Ben, Mr. Odongo Bartholomew and I decided to open the school in 2023 after getting cries from the community that their children were lacking education since the nearest school was about 6km, a distance their children could not cover. Parents looked at this as a challenge in keeping children at home, thus putting the lives of boys and girls at risk of engaging in alcoholism, engaging in drugs, teenage pregnancies and early marriages respectively,” the head teacher reveals.
According to Omara, the school currently has 680 learners who are attended to by teachers who are volunteering for a good cause.
Omara says the school community is encountering great challenges like no classroom blocks for learners, no accommodation for teachers, no teaching materials (books, chalk, furniture for both learners and staff), limited latrines and limited water source (one borehole shared with the community).
Furthermore, Mr. Omara says the current rains have posed a great challenge in conducting lessons under trees.
“When the rains fall, that then marks the end of the daily routine at school. The whole compound floods leaving us with no choice but to send the learners back home. With support from the community, we were only able to put up a temporary structure hosting primary six, primary seven and the school office,” adds Omara.
“The school equally has no latrine for the boys and only one stance of latrine for the teachers. Recently, the boys’ latrine collapsed and now, they are sharing with the teachers. As the school community, we strongly know that this is very unhealthy but we have hope that this will be addressed.
Chairperson of PTA, Mr. Sarafino Ogwang who succeeded Mzee Logino Otili says the good cooperation with the parents made it possible to address some of the crucial issues like the construction of traditional pit latrines with one door each for the girls and boys.
Ogwang adds that he mobilized parents who carried bricks to construct a small shelter-like structure to house the school office and also two classes: primary six and seven.
“I worked closely with my parents who helped fetch bricks and also contributed some small money to facilitate the purchase of the 44 iron sheets, each costing shs 35,000.
“I also mobilized parents who supported the school with two trips of gravel/stones, and two trips of sand and bricks that enabled us to raise our temporary structure but nevertheless, we still have challenges.
According to Ogwang, when the heavy rains fall, learners are distributed to the nearest homesteads to take shelter from the rains and flooding because the standing temporary structure cannot accommodate them all.
The school still faces a big challenge. It only has one borehole which is the main source of water yet at times, it is down due to poor management. When it breaks down, it forces learners to opt for stream water which is sometimes contaminated.
“The number of children is overwhelming and sometimes the borehole breaks down. And because of that, these children move down the stream to access water which also exposes them to waterborne diseases, the PTA chair adds.
As the chairperson of PTA, Ogwang says his biggest challenge is dealing with the minds of parents, especially those who don’t comply with payment.
“Initially, we came up with a policy that each parent pays shs 10,000 to support and maintain our teachers in school but some of these parents have refused to comply.
Ogwang says the current rains and limited desks pose a great challenge to the learners’ daily routine at school.
“Our children use logs and leaves from branches of trees as seats while writing on their laps when attending lessons, but this is not easy because most of them can’t afford to wash their uniforms on a daily basis. Secondly, this has forced many out of school because when the clothes become dirty, that child may not be willing to come to school, especially girls,” he narrates.
Speaking to Madam Grace Alum, a teacher who also doubles as a senior woman teacher, the biggest challenge she encounters almost daily is dealing with the girl child’s needs which the school cannot manage at the moment due to financial constraints.
She says some girls as early as those in primary four begin to experience a menstrual cycle; something she says is making some girls drop out of school due to low self-esteem and failure by the parents to provide sanitary pads to their adolescent girls due to the high poverty level among the families.
“Sometimes am forced to pick my own money and buy pads for these girls in case this befalls them while in class. I have also interacted with these girls and some tell me that they have opted for these small facial towels sold between shs 1,500-2,000 which they say can easily be washed and reused the next day,” says senior woman teacher.
According to Alum, the school has seen a number of girls dropping out and getting married simply because parents cannot buy such essentials for the girl child.
The Director of Studies of the same school Mr Obua Ben says the school currently runs with 3 female and 8 male teachers. He reveals that the school lacks teaching materials like chalk, class rulers, and teaching textbooks, among others.
Obua also stresses that the school lacks a staff room for teachers including the school office.
“Although we have a small room we call an office, that looks like a store because once you enter there, you won’t see neither a chair nor a table,” says Obua.
Intending to maintain the few teachers in school, Obua now calls for support from all stakeholders including government and NGOs, adding that the school supports respective teachers with shs. 10,000 each per month as pay to accord a decent primary education.
Innocent Etea, a primary six pupil and also the head boy, says they encounter challenges especially when it rains and the whole school is flooded.
“We lack classrooms and sitting furniture so when it rains, teachers stop lessons yet he/she could be covering a very important topic at that particular time. Thus, we miss out a lot. This makes competition with the neighbouring school very difficult,” the pupils’ leader says.
Etea also notes that as pupils, they lack a pit latrine. He says boys are now sharing the one latrine with teachers; something he says is not healthy after the learners’ latrine collapsed due to the heavy downpour.
Meanwhile, the head girl, Jenifer Amoo says most of their fellow girls are dropping out of school because their parents cannot afford sanitary pads which the school has also failed to address due to financial issues.
“Personally, I did garden work to raise shs 3,000 to buy facial towels that I use when I start my monthly menstrual cycle. I had to bargain and buy each at shs1, 000 but each was going for shs1, 500. I told the lady selling them that I was a pupil and I needed them to act as pads and she eventually sold them to me at shs 1,000 each,” narrates Amoo.
Say of local leader
Denis Onyala, the Local council one chairperson of Genbadi village says having a school in Genbadi village has enabled parents to see the value of educating their children.
He urges different stakeholders, political leaders across the district and well-wishers to support the initiated fundraising drive under the stewardship of Lango Civil Society Network to elevate the status of the school to boost education levels in Genbadi.
“This community was exposed to a number of risks because locals were taking their valuable time drinking local brew, smoking, stealing, and abusing drugs that made society look bad. But since the initiation of Acekene community school, we have recorded some positive changes from both parents and children since both have seen the value of education,” says Onyala.
He also calls upon parents to acknowledge their role and value of educating a child as a tool of development in every nation.
Ray of hope
With parents and school leadership beating all odds to keep children at school with a vision of securing a future for the next generation, Lango Civil Society Network (LACSON) has now taken up the initiative to initiate a fundraising drive to elevate the status of Acekene Nursery and Primary School.
According to LACSON, the fundraising initiative is bringing together various individuals and stakeholders to find possible options to save thousands of children at Acekene Community School which currently has no classrooms.
In regards to the first fundraising drive held in the school under the stewardship of LACSON, the Acekene community raised shs200, 000 on November 10, 2023, during a brief music, dance and drama session performed by pupils.
This story was funded by Lango Civil Society Network (LACSON) in partnership with Uganda NGO Forum.