Stories From Uganda: A Dedicated Teacher

Beatrice Kebirungi (58) has been a teacher at Ryamugwizi Primary School in rural South West Uganda since the earliest days of the school. For twenty five years, her dedication to the children in the school and her commitment to the people of her local community have never wavered. This is another inspiring story from Uganda.

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Beatrice qualified as a Grade 3 teacher in 1993 and has been teaching ever since. When Ryamugwizi Primary School was first opened by the church it was a private school with no government funding. Beatrice told me that she often worked without pay in those early years. Eventually in 2004 the government began to support the school with some teacher salaries.

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As the school continued to grow, in 2007 the government provided some further support with a small building of classrooms and salaries for more teachers. In the same year Beatrice decided to go back to study to qualify as an Upper Grade teacher.

Beatrice explained how the school really began to develop and grow when the  REAP Project and Fields of Life began to support it in 2014. This included the construction of ‘a wonderful building’ with new classrooms, pit latrines, a kitchen and a rain water harvesting system.

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Today the school continues to grow and develop. Beatrice smiles when she says, ‘Now we have classrooms and I get a salary!’

This year the REAP Project added a staff accommodation block for teachers to live on site, to increase their time spent at school and to attract the best teachers.

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I asked Beatrice about all the changes she has been through in the school in the last twenty years. She replied, ‘The school enrolment is increasing, we have water, we are attracting very good teachers and academic performance in improving. I am proud of our pupils. Some of our past pupils are doing very well.’

39558336770_20a9f1061a_oBeatrice is married and has five children. Since she began receiving a government salary she has been investing her income in her family and in the local community.

‘I’ve had to look after my five children and their education,’ she said (two of her children are now at university), ‘and I’ve built a small home and managed to buy some land to develop projects.’

Beatrice has developed two hectares of land with coffee and banana plantations. She has built a house for commercial rental and premises for her son to operate a retail business. I asked her why she was investing in this way. ‘It’s for the future of my children,’ she said, ‘I have future plans for four hectares of land and I would love to rear cattle.’

I found it inspiring to hear that after years of not being guaranteed a teacher’s salary, when Beatrice began to earn a regular income, she looked outward, with an entrepreneurial spirit and invested in development projects in her local community.

On the day Beatrice welcomed the REAP Project team into her home I asked about her hopes for the future of the school. She did not hesitate to reply.

‘I want us to continue to improve the standards, to start a boarding section for children who live further away, as this will enable children to study for longer and improve their academic performance. A boarding section will also bring income into the school to help subsidise the children from lower income families.’

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‘I come from here,’ said Beatrice, ‘and I want to be a role model for the children, especially the girls. I tell them stories of how I have persisted to stay with them. I want to inspire them to be like me and more.’

I have no doubt that Beatrice Kebirungi will continue to teach and inspire the children at Ryamugwizi Primary School for many years to come.

Stories from Uganda: An inspiring single mother in rural Uganda

This is the story of Alice Bamacungura, a sixty four year old woman with a passion for nurturing children.

Alice grew up in a single parent family in the Bushenyi District of Western Uganda. After her parents’ divorce she lived with her father until marrying Wilson and moving to the village of Busingiro (where I have been hearing the stories of local people during my visit to Uganda this week). She depends on the natural spring well that that I wrote about here).

Alice had five children, but two of her children died and her husband abandoned the family and went to live in Kampala in the 1980s. ‘He left us thirty years ago,’ she says, ‘and he never showed up again.’ In the years that followed Alice struggled with the loss of her children and with a serious illness but she was determined to earn enough money to raise her remaining children on her own. She tells me that she used to grow crops and when the crop was planted and growing she would go and dig in other people’s fields so that she would have enough income for her family. The house her husband had built fell down and so she started to work for others and to save money in the local SACCO. Eventually she earned enough money to build a small home and today she also has 2.5 acres of land.

Unfortunately when her children were young she could not raise enough money to pay for school fees and instead Alice taught them skills to help them to get a job. Her daughter, Scovia took a course in hairdressing and now runs her own hair salon. Her daughter, Jenessca is now a business woman, selling footwear in the local markets and her son, Dezi has become a well known local artist, singer and drummer.

However, this remarkable woman did not stop after raising her own children. Today she has five more children living with her that she looks after. Some of them are attending Ryamugwizi Primary School (the school being supported by the REAP Project). She tells me she has taken in these children because they have been abandoned and were not being looked after. She says, ‘Even at my age I still go to work in other people’s fields to make enough money to raise these children. Living a single life is not easy!’ After struggling to raising her own children alone Alice, at the age of sixty four, is still out in the fields digging the soil, to give other children a good start in life.

‘I have a passion for nurturing children,’ she says, ‘and children come and stay at my home’ She explains, ‘I didn’t get a chance to study or go to school, so I want to see children pass through school and get an education. Without skills and education, children cannot survive life.’

I ask Alice where her strength and resilience come from and she talks humbly about her faith in God. ‘God is the source of everything’, she says, ‘I cast all my burdens upon God.’

I ask Alice about her hopes for the future. She tells me that she wants to see the children she raises getting good qualifications and becoming a teacher or a nurse. She says she hopes the children she has raised will remember her and perhaps support her when she is elderly.  She would like to have a proper door and windows in her house. ‘I pray that if I live long enough, God will allow me to finish my house with a metallic door and windows, and I will forget the bad experiences of the past.’

It was a privilege to meet Alice. Her hard work, resilience and faith and her love and commitment to children is truly inspiring. I hope she lives a long and happy life and that her hopes for the future will be realised.

Stories from Uganda: The Women at the Well

Today I met three women from the village of Busingiro in rural Uganda, who told me the story of the natural spring well which their families depend upon for water.

Grace Kemydngyere has lived in Busingiro since she got married forty years ago. She has eight children and seven grandchildren. Grace tells me that she has used the the natural spring well, at the bottom of the hill beside Ryamugwizi Primary School, for the past 38 years. She explains that the well never dries up even during the dry season, although this can cause problems because people come from miles away to find water. This is what the well looks like today.

Grace’s family fills a Jerry Can from this spring five times a day for drinking water, food preparation and washing. When the well is dirty the food she prepares changes colour and her children get sick. She says currently every animal uses the well and there are many diseases in the water. Her son is ill with an abdominal infection and she thinks it might have been caused by drinking water from the well. She also has worries that when her grandchildren are fetching water they might fall into the unprotected well and drown.

Grace tells me that when the well gets dirty the local community come together to try to clean up around it. She says the well is very important because without it her family would have to migrate from their community. Grace smiles at the thought of the well being protected. She says then it can be safely used to fetch water to boil and drink. With a protected well and clean water she believes her grandchildren will grow up healthy, without chronic waterborne diseases and be able to go to school, to study and acquire skills to earn a living and improve their family situation. Grace hopes for a future when her grandchildren will get an education, change their environment, construct good houses, have more land and have a better way of life.

Dinavence Kyohairwe (25) lives in Busingiro village with her husband and three children. She explains how she uses water from the well to cook food, to bathe and to wash clothes and utensils. She visits the well three times a day to fill up Jerry Cans and she boils some of the water for drinking water. Dinavence worries that sometimes when the water is full of algae that her children might become ill after drinking the water. She’s delighted that the well is going to be protected. She tells me that she expects the water to be clean and that the children will have fewer sicknesses. As a young mother she is happy that her children will have a chance to be more healthy and to grow well. Dinavence has many hopes and dreams for her children. She wants them to be physically healthy and to continue their schooling. She dreams that one day they will be a lawyer, a doctor and an engineer and that they will support the family.

Dinavence Nabwine (49) also lives in the village of Busingiro with her husband James, ten children and nine grandchildren. She explains to me how important the well is for her family. They fetch six Jerry Cans of water every day to cook food, wash their clothes and bathe. But Dinavence is concerned that the water is dirty and unsafe because when it rains, water flows down the hill through faeces and brings contaminated water into the well. As result people can get diarrhoea, typhoid and other waterborne diseases. She explains that sometimes the young children forget to boil the water and end up getting sick.

Dinavence says when the well is protected and the water is clean she will no longer have the stress and worry of bad water causing disease in her family. Her eyes light up when I ask about her hopes for her grandchildren. She says that with safe water they will be healthy to go to school and get a good education and skills for the future. She dreams that one of her grandchildren will become a doctor. Dinavence says she is thankful to people from Northern Ireland who have donated money to secure the well. She believes that with clean water and a good school her family will have a community to be proud of.

The REAP Project has allocated £2500 from the money raised by the team to protect the natural spring well beside Ryamugwizi Primary School. As you can see from the photograph above the well is not protected and as a result contains dirty and contaminated water. This is the well that Grace and both Dinavences and their families fetch water from five times a day.

However, this is what the well will look like in a few weeks time, as a result of the fundraising efforts of a small group of men from Northern Ireland in association with Fields of Life, and a partnership approach to development with the local community at Ryamugwizi Primary School.

It’s an important step on the way to ensuring that the women I met at the well today will see their dreams for their children and grandchildren becoming a reality.