They say persistence will get you far. For Eunice Among, 50, persistence has got her away from an uncertain past to the top of the basket that is Tororo’s private education sector. Even today as she sits in her office, she cuts the image of one who will not give up, until her dream is complete.
Born in 1964 to George Osiru, a retired teacher and Florence Agudo, a housewife, Among started her mentoring role early, looking after her siblings. Her father was head teacher in Magodesi primary school, and following in his footsteps seemed like the normal thing to do after completing her primary school education in the same school between 1972 and 1978.
“I have always loved teaching … it is in my blood,” says Among, the first of her parents’ six children.
After P7, she joined St Elizabeth SS Kidetok in present-day Serere district from 1979 to 1982, before continuing to Ngora High School in Kumi for her A-levels in 1985. And that was the end of her education, for the time being. While she had wanted to continue, she had no one to pay for her education; so, she secured a teaching job at the SDA primary school in Pallisa through a friend, Fridah Nabwire. For the next two years, she was the English teacher there until 1987.
“But given the state of our background, there was no one to support me in achieving my dream of joining a Teachers’ Training College; so, I had no option and got married in late 1987 due to frustrations,” she explains.
But her marriage to one David Engurata would not last long, as he was murdered by unknown assailants three years after their wedding.
Always a teacher
Stuck without a source of income to support her two children, Among sought a job, landing one as a community-based volunteer in Mbale, with an NGO in 1990.
“To make ends meet I started volunteering with NGOs like Young Women’s Christian Association [YWCA] and later Health Improvement Programme [HIP]. All these organizations were dealing with family planning,” Among explains.
But 10 years later, she was dissatisfied with the task of sensitizing communities about advantages of various family planning methods. Among felt the burning desire to pursue her dream of being a teacher.
It had been 15 years since she had sat for her A-levels at Kidetok. She returned to the school to claim for her certificates, to join a Teachers’ Training College.
“In 2000, I joined Mulanda core primary teachers college before it was shifted to Mukuju and renamed Mukuju core teachers college,” she recalls.
Among was among the pioneer students and completed her studies in 2003, and was posted to Mifumi primary school in Kirewa sub-county in west Budama North in Tororo. The school had the support of Mifumi, an NGO advocating for the rights of the girl child, among other issues. For the first time in a long time, life was good in the Among household, as she was the Mathematics and English teacher, as the NGO topped her meagre salaries.
Among recalls that her hard work saw one of the P7 candidates that year pass their Primary Leaving Examinations in division one, for the first time in the school’s history.
“Being a UPE school [that pupils] getting aggregate 8 looked like a miracle to the management and the parents,” she says.
But Among stunned everyone after one year when she abandoned life at Mifumi primary school to start her own school - Victory Border Point primary school in Malaba. The school was a ramshackle affair with mats for walls, and a leaking roof. But it had 60 pupils at inception. Today the school features some storeyed buildings.
“Choosing to go and lead a private school was a passion driven by the spirit of self-worth,” says Among with finality.
“I felt like following my passion of teaching through providing services with a spirit of self-worth other than being driven to doing things.”
Asked about the source of her courage to venture into the unknown, Among says she was very confident from the beginning.
“If there is something easy to do in this world, then it is leading a school to success as long as you have the spirit of self–worth,” she says.
However, she also credits the support of her brother and fellow director, Joseph Gad Oprong, who kept encouraging her focus on growing the school.
Challeges of a new school
But the start was not as glorious.
“I would announce vacancies for teachers on radio but when the teachers reach the school, they never return because of the structures and the state of the school,” says Among.
She learnt the hard way that first impressions matter, as even cooks refused the opportunity to be her employees. She decided to persuade area residents to help out on condition that she would pay them promptly. In no time, she realised she was now faced with excessive pressure from parents, who were looking for good grades.
“You fail to have good results, you lose most of your pupils to another nearby private school that performed better than you,” says Among.
Among says private schools are result-oriented with any fall in performance, is punished most severely.
“The parents have their ears on the ground when results are released and will automatically transfer their children to the best school,” adds Among.
Mobility of labour according to Among is the greatest threat to any private school since other schools are searching for the best teachers and will pay any amount to snatch a teacher from another school.
“You can invest a lot in training a teacher only to wake up one morning to find that the teacher has moved to another school without notifying you,” explains Among.
According to Among, this is compounded by the fact that every teacher has a cluster of loyal parents. Leaving a school can lead to reduction of the number of pupils. Among explains that she has managed to stay on top of the district’s competition for the last six years by striving to achieve her goals. She believes that competing with other schools may result in poor results in her own, as a result of the pressure from the completion.
“If you treat competition as the reason of operating a private school, then you will fail however good a manager you are, but what has kept me moving is that I focus on achieving my set and targeted goal within a period of time,” says Among.
Among also insists that private schools don’t have to cheat in exams to excel, but instead follow the syllabus religiously. In one of her vows, Among says is to help parents get automatic admissions to secondary schools without having to bribe or apply for vacancies for their children to join senior one through making them excel in PLE.