The mere mention of Kichwamba evokes the tragic memories of 1998 at Kicwamba Technical College when rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces attacked the facility and killed 80 students.
With that memory lingering on even after the college was revamped, nothing prepared me for what to expect when I stepped foot in Kichwamba sub-county in Kabarole district and travelled deep in Geme village.
It is a remote area and first-hand poverty is visible throughout. In fact, not until 2008 did the area have a primary or secondary school. Locals here say talk of education in the area sounded like an illusion.
“Children used to work in the stone quarries since schools were far and they could not walk there every day,” says Joseph Araali, resident of Geme.
However, all that changed in 2008 when Outreach to Africa (OTA), an NGO, set up the first education facility called Paul Devlin School. It was part of the mission to empower communities through providing education, healthcare and economic empowerment projects.
Looking at the neat buildings, it is hard to tell this place is surrounded by remote villages. The sanitation is also top-notch with running water and clean compound.
Although the start was not that easy, the school has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, thanks largely to the funding of Emirates Airline Foundation (EAF). The facility now has more than 850 learners right from nursery, primary and secondary education.
It sits on more than 10 acres in a serene environment that makes it conducive for education. I met Ruth Kobusingye, a senior four student who has studied at the school right from primary.
She says she had little hope and was not sure of completing primary school until the administrators offered her a bursary to continue.
“I was simply studying on faith since my parents couldn’t afford to keep me in school but each time I was on the verge of dropping out, the school would offer me a waiver to continue,” she says. “I now dream of completing my A-level here and go on to become a teacher.”
According to Evelyn Komuntale, the founder of OTA, starting the school even with little resources was just a way of helping the community through baby steps.
“We started with a few buildings and materials but as you know, all beginnings are hard but with time, effort and determination, there is always a change in the right direction,” she says.
The turnaround started in 2010 and, interestingly, it began as a collaboration to provide basic healthcare services to Geme residents. Initially, the Emirates Airline Foundation (EAF) sponsored OTA through travel expenses for nurses, doctors and other volunteers on healthcare and humanitarian missions across its various missions, schools and clinics in several remote areas throughout the country.
In 2011, the foundation donated medical supplies worth $500,000 to OTA to provide much-needed healthcare to thousands of lives in the region.
The success of that partnership prompted EAF to extend it to the education sector. In 2014, the EAF partnered OTA to enhance create a new campus to be named Emirates Airline Foundation Campus (EAFC) worth $1.5 million (Shs 5.8bn).
Since then, several classroom blocks and dormitories have been built and as of now, the campus is fully-functioning. Upon completion of the ongoing construction and renovation work, the capacity of the school will increase to about 2,000 learners.
“The EAFC is deeply committed to helping disadvantaged children around the world. The school that we are building with OTA will contribute to empowering communities and transform the lives of so many children,” says Sir Tim Clark, the chairman, Emirates Airline Foundation.
“Our work in Uganda over the past eight years has enabled us to meet our objectives as an organization, and this project also ties in with the goals of the Ugandan government to eradicate poverty through increasing access to education.”
The EAFC is expected to be completed by December 2018; in time for the start of the new academic year in February 2019. The new facility will include dormitories for boarding students, sports fields, staff housing, a library and computer laboratory, a dining hall, and classrooms.
Whereas the school remains the only one in the area in a district where academic performance is still low, Komuntale confesses there is still need for more funding to bring it to the standards of others in urban centres to enhance the children’s academic performances. Among the things she noted is the lack of desks, library equipment and laboratory equipment.
Many of the learners here are on scholarships from OTA while a few of them pay a fraction ranging from Shs 300,000 to Shs 400, 000.
“This is not anything to do with profit. What they pay is entirely to help us with running the school, paying salary, feed children and other things,” she says.