In the affluent suburbs of Kampala, parents have a list of good schools to choose from for their children.
But for parents in Bududa’s communities, Arlington Academy of Hope (AAH) – as aptly named – is their only choice of a good school. The owners, John Wanda and his wife, Joyce, opened the school’s doors in 2004 to improve the deteriorating education standards in Bududa. Since they are natives of Bududa, the Wandas thought the best way to give back to their community was through setting up a school.
Having lived in Arlington, Virginia, US, for 15 years, Wanda nurtured the idea of setting up a school back home but lacked the funds to do so. Good luck struck when the staff of Arlington Traditional School gave him the funds, books and volunteer teachers.
Their efforts ensured that AAH boasts of good facilities, which include: a well-stocked library, clinic and teachers’ houses. In addition, the pupils also enjoy the expertise of volunteer American teachers, who offer their services for six months or a year. They then leave and others come in for the period.
Pupils are thus encouraged to read at least 50 books from the library each year. Found in Bumwalukani village in Bulucheke sub-county, AAH started with 158 pupils but has since grown to 400.
Rise of an academic giant
Prior to 2006, Bududa was one of the worst performing districts in the country. In 2004, only two students in the district passed in division 1, making it the second worst performer that year. Wanda attributes the poor performance to few schools in the region, uncommitted teachers and the district heads’ reluctance to solve education issues.
However, with AAH’s promising performance, the headmaster says Bududa has dropped off the worst performer’s list. Tom Kitandwe adds that the pupils are renowned for their etiquette and good English skills.
“Speaking English is not common in village schools. Pupils usually prefer the local language, even during lessons that is why they fail English as a subject,” Kitandwe says.
AAH has occupied the district’s top position since 2006, when its pioneer pupils sat for PLE. That year, the school produced 15 pupils in first division, which was by far the best score in the district. Kitandwe also notes that much as the school has no O-Level, AAH keeps track of its alumni. For example, the pioneers, who sat their UCE last year in different schools, nine passed in division 1, 11 in second division and four in third division.
“When I make a comparison of these results at a national level, I believe our students performed well especially within the eastern region. No one has ever scored 15 aggregates in Bududa district,” says Wanda.
“Moses Wambette was our best performer, and his 15 aggregates will probably translate into probably As and maybe a few Bs,” he adds.
Wambette is on a full AAH scholarship for his A-Level. The school has so far awarded its former pupils 207 scholarships in various secondary schools such as: Mwiri College, Kiira College, Butiiki, St. Peters College Tororo, Makerere College, Migadde, Tororo Girls School and St. Paul’s College, Mbale.
AAH also offers community scholarships to the best performers at schools in Manafwa and Bududa district, to help the brilliant but disadvantaged pupils with a chance at an education.
Secret behind good performance
Wanda says that besides the funds from donors in the States, the school board ensures that pupils have adequate supplies and teachers are well paid. Unlike most rural schools, where teachers and pupils attend school at will, at AAH there is a policy for both teachers and pupils to be in school at 7: 30 am.
“If the late-coming is continuous, letters are written to parents warning them about the vice and when they fail to change, the only option is to look for another school,” Wanda emphasizes.
Kitandwe explains that other schools perform poorly because of pupil absenteeism, which is not the case at AAH.
“In Bududa, during the market days, pupils miss school to go to the market.
“When it is also a year for circumcision (Imbalu), the number of pupils reduces in school; especially girls, who are taken up by the ‘kadodi’ drums and some get married in the process.”
Besides their contribution to education, the Wandas also set up health clinics because like education, Bududa’s health facilities are appalling.
“We sought contributions from our friends in the U.S and they came to our rescue, especially Beatrice Tierney. We have since set up two clinics in Manafwa and Bududa,” Wanda said.