Uganda spends a quarter of its national budget on health and education. According to the World Bank between 1989 and 2011 child mortality rates halved and last year 8.4 million children were enrolled in Ugandan primary schools.  A recent visit to the country explored the quality of the services and the work of one charity, Build Africa. 

The Republic of Uganda is home to 36 million people and forty languages. It is a strikingly beautiful country, yet one which has some very real poverty.  There are many charities, including Build Africa, at work in the country whose work takes them to rural places in Kenya and Uganda.  They combine education and livelihood projects to help people move away from subsistence living, giving them the opportunities to live self-directed fulfilling lives.  A week was spent travelling to different areas with the charity, looking at the work they had done and seeing the progress that various school projects had made.

Build Africa’s overall mission is to improve the lives of communities and children through supporting projects that increase access to education and increase livelihoods.  They run initiatives with schools to support access to clean water, food and the very successful village savings and loans association.  This is a micro-finance scheme where the community save together and loan money as a community to members when they have an idea for increasing their income but do not have the funds to do so. They have also trained communities and schools in better farming practises. One member of a community told how before Build Africa’s training his land would only yield 3 sacks of maize, after training on optimum seed planting distances the same land yielded 21 sacks of maize.

There were some incredible and inspiring things; classrooms so full of children eager to learn that their teaching ratio was 1:100; temporary structures which at first sight seemed to be sheds or storehouses were used as classrooms and huge smiles could be seen from all the children. Each school had perfectly behaved children.  Each school had a parent-teacher body that was proud of what they had achieved so far and eager to move their schools forward.  Each school visited left a lasting impression.

One school that held particular impact was an hour and a half along a bumpy road.  There were two small mud buildings and a huddle of adults beneath the largest tree’s shade, sitting around a table.  There were cattle and goats grazing close by and some building work happening.  What was hidden was the usual crowd of children tumbling out to see visitors.  After some time it became apparent that each tree surrounding the clearing had a group of children beneath it, learning.

Headmaster John led the group around the school, from one collection of trees to the next, showing the children. Most of the ‘classrooms’ didn’t have seats.  They sat on the ground in the shade of the trees and had their lessons.  This community had already established their own school, under some large trees on land donated by one of the parents. There was enthusiasm and strong support from the parents who really appreciated the need for greater access to education for their community. However a lack in basic resources was proving challenging.  This was where Build Africa came in. With their help the school was being built to something more than a collection of trees.  There are government based schools, but the nearest one was a 16km walk away.  Once a school is established, it can apply for funding to be taken over by the government.  So the mission seemed clear:  build a school.

The first obstacle to this mission was the roads.  There were none.  It was a marshy swampy rural place.  With the help of Build Africa the local government was persuaded to build a road.  This road has not only meant that the school is accessible for building materials and school goers but it has also helped the local community sell more of its produce.  Now larger towns can be reached and produce can be sold before it goes off.

The next stage of the project is to create accommodation for the teachers, two school buildings and to begin further teacher training. At the moment building work is taking place on the first school classroom building. Seeing the very real impact of the work that Build Africa did was incredible.  The work of Build Africa uses things taken for granted within the West and gives them to the people of Uganda .  It was a truly inspiring week and showed how important individual education and livelihood is to raise the prospects of a country.

Although there is a large amount of the national budget being spent on education.  There is still a lot of work that needs to be done.  As witnessed within a week tour there are still many schools that are in desperate need of attention.  Teaching ratios can be large and the equipment like text books and things to play with is limited.  Waley Wane, Senior Economist of Human Development at the World Bank said, “For Uganda to be able to move forward and claim the twenty-first century, transforming itself into a prosperous nation by 2040, all Ugandans must have access to the same high level of education and health care, and that basic issues standing in the way of better quality services need to be sorted out quickly”.  Sadly at the moment the rural areas of Uganda do not have the same quality as the urban areas within Uganda.  There was a stark difference between the cities and the countryside and the poverty observed within the countryside was humbling.

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