The lovely avenue leading to Sir Samuel Baker Secondary School, off Kitgum Road a few kilometres from Gulu town, now opens to a new-looking school.
Gone is the picture of dilapidated structures built in 1952, and in its place is a fresh picture of new laboratories, dormitories and library, among others.
The two-year renovation project, courtesy of the Belgian and Ugandan governments, cost Shs 6 billion, with the two countries contributing Shs 4.9bn and Shs 1.1bn respectively.
During the commissioning ceremony this month, the state minister for Primary Education, Kamanda Bataringaya, said the project was a testimony to the government’s commitment to providing equitable access to education.
Belgian Ambassador Marc Gedopt said the project is aimed at restoring the might of the school, as well as solving the plight of the people of northern Uganda who are just recovering from a civil war.
The project comprised of renovating classrooms, five dormitories, four laboratories, dining hall, a technical room, the head teacher’s and deputy head teacher’s houses.
It also involved the reconstruction of the Assembly Hall, set on fire by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in 2005, the administration building and some of the teachers’ houses. Paul Ochieng, 65, is one of the parents happy with the new developments.
“This was a deserted and volatile ground for rebel activities that I could hardly think of as a school for education. It had become synonymous with LRA activities,” Ochieng said.
In 1996, LRA rebels invaded Sir Samuel Baker SS, abducted the students and left several of the school facilities destroyed. Eventually, parents shunned the school for the insecurity. After the war, Ochieng, like other parents has had a change of heart and now has a son in S.2 at the school.
The school was once a formidable force in the north, nurturing minds such as: Prof Ogenga Latigo (Agago MP), Ambassador Joram Ajeani and Reuben Kinyera, a retired veterinary officer.
“When I was still in this school, they used to give us whatever we wanted, and the facilities that favoured one to perform well were there,” recalls Kinyera, 75, an old boy of the 1954 class.
The school head teacher, Churchill Olanya Lacere, was pleased with the facelift and said it would restore the school’s glory.
“This work, indeed, creates a learning environment that is good for both the students and the teachers, who will need to utilize it sparingly for our own progress,” said Lacere.
Of the 120 students in last year’s O-level results, only nine students passed in first grade, 35 in second grade and the rest in third grade. But everyone here is hopeful that the grades will improve. Elizabeth Oola, an English teacher, says students’ motivation has increased ever since the school got the new facilities.
“As of now, the students have the books installed in the library. They will do better if they develop a positive attitude towards learning as we try to engage them,” she said.
The school also erected a new fence and acquired a generator which restricts students from escaping under the cover of darkness. The new facilities have brought in more tidings: Nobert Mao, the Democratic Party president, has pledged to teach General Paper to A-level students with effect from next term.
“We are remarking the rebirth of the once great school in the region. I have personally been following the process; so, I call upon government and the people to prioritize the redevelopment of the school,” Mao said.
However, the school still has a few challenges, some of which are understaffing and encroachment on school land, estimated to be 640 acres.
“The school has only 32 teachers on the government payroll and yet our staff ceiling is 70 teachers. This is a challenge because our enrolment is 892 students,” Lacere lamented.