19 October 2008

Uganda: Duhaga Girls' Walls of Shame

Kampala — DUHAGA Girls' School was once ranked among the best primary schools in Uganda. Years of neglect, however, saw it fall from grace. As the school celebrates its centenary, Conan Businge traces its tragic fall.

Prestigious is definitely not one of the words that come to mind when you see Duhaga Girls' School. And yet that iswhat it once was. Several decades of negligence have taken their toll on the former great school.

As it gears up for its centenary celebrations, there is nothing to be proud of about the school in its current state.

The school's walls bear witness to this sad tale; some have wide gapping holes, others have long cracks, but their one common denominator is that they have not had a new coat of paint in years. Sitting side-by-side with these ancient dilapidated buildings are some relatively new classroom blocks that are beginning to suffer a similar fate.

The unkempt compound does not help matters; in fact it gives one the impression that the school is unoccupied, until one hears the school bell ringing or the pupils merrily reciting a rhyme.

Built in 1908, the school has an aura of timelessness despite appearing derelict. The trees and serenity at Duhaga Girls' School are partly what used to attract pupils to the school. That environment and the school's academic prowess are

no more. Duhaga Girls' School, Budo Junior School and Gayaza Normal School (current Gayaza Junior School) were among the first schools to be built in the country.

An eerie feeling grips me as I take a tour of the school. The only thing this school can be proud of is its rich history. Despite its appalling appearance, the school has a total population of 460 pupils, 72 of whom are in the boarding section.

The building which serves as the main hall is at the brink of collapse. Part of the roof has already caved in. Meanwhile, the decrepit teachers' quarters are not any different. The P1 classroom walls have hair-raising cracks, and God forbid, you don't want to imagine what might happen in the unfortunate circumstance that it crumbles.

The birth of the school can be traced back to Sir Warren Fisher, a British colonial administrator in Bunyoro, who convinced Omukama Andereya Bisereko Duhaga II about the value of education. After consulting with some of his subjects at the Kikaari (palace), Duhaga II agreed to start the school.

The school was thus named after him. Born in 1882, Omukama Duhaga II ascended to the throne in 1902. He died in 1924, and was survived by three daughters; Princess Ruth, Alexandria and Nora who, incidentally, all studied at Duhaga Girls' School.

Omukama Duhaga was succeeded by Omukama Tito Gafabusa Winyi (1924-1967), who in turn was succeeded by the current omukama, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru. He was enthroned in 1994. Iguru was able to ascend to the throne after the National Resistance Movement government

restored cultural institutions that had been abolished by the Milton Obote regime under the 1967 Constitution.

In its early days, Duhaga was a mixed school. The boys would study in the morning while the girls would study in the afternoon. The only subjects taught then were reading and writing.

According to some pioneers of the school, all the teaching materials and salary for the teachers came directly from the UK, and so most of them

The chapel built in memory of eight girls who died in a 1951 accident Part of the chapel roof and ceiling did not have to pay school fees.

Two years after its inception, the UK government sent Miss. F. H. Wright to head the school. Locals gave her the pet name Amooti. Wright advocated for the separation of girls from boys, and within a month's time her wishes were fulfilled.

The pupils, who quickly learnt how to read and write, soon graduated as teachers at the school. The enrolment shot-up and eventually a Teacher Training College was established on the same compound. For about 20 years, the school was a bright shining star. After that its star began to fade.

Stella Mugabi, the school's deputy head teacher, says that when the school started to expand, several management problems cropped up and some parents were also not comfortable with the school policy of having their young daughters studying on the same campus with adults.

The first female graduate in East Africa, Sarah Ntiro, who happens to be an old girl of the school, lays part of the blame for its collapse on the alumni. She says they too have neglected the school.

Nevertheless, she has fond memories of the school. "We used to have classes from morning up to lunch time. Then we would go to our beds, and rest for some hours. In the evening, we would be woken up and given water to drink. The

older girls would be sent to work on the school farm in the evening."

As the school continued to expand, Wright sent two of her first graduates (those that knew how to read and write) to Tooro to train as teachers. Dina Tibanagwa and Jane Nswungwa set off on the two-week journey to Tooro on foot.

When T. Gerard was sent to the school in 1923, he found it difficult to communicate effectively because of language barrier. He was later replaced by E. H. Ainley who had spent a year in Gayaza Normal School. At the time, these two schools were rated to be at the same level academically.

When Ainley arrived, she found that most of the teachers who had been trained had left to get married. There was only a watchman and a matron at the school. She decided to rebuild it from scratch. A year later, she was joined by P. Linton, who assisted her with administration and teaching.

They worked together for eight years. Linton requested for some teachers from Gayaza Normal School, but they were sent only after two years. In the meantime, the administrators of the school had to find a solution. "The pupils in P4 would study from 11:30am to 1:30pm.

Later in the afternoon, they would turn into teachers, for the lower classes," Mugabi says. In 1920, the two girls sent to Tooro to train as teachers, returned, with two others. Of the two, one was the first matron in the school and the other a caretaker.

By 1928, Duhaga Girls' School was famous, attracting pupils all the way from Acholi, Lango, Buganda and Tanzania.

After completing P6, most pupils either left to train as teachers or to become nurses. The school's boarding section started in 1920 with nine pupils and is now the only source of income for the school.

The current head teacher of Duhaga Girls' School says that the funds sent from the district to support the Universal Primary Education programme are not enough. The boarding section of the school started when Omukama Duhaga sent his daughters to the school. Later, Bunyoro's Prime Minister Bikunga sent his daughter, Yayeri Kirokimu, to the school.

This gesture was to underscore the importance of education to the king's subjects. When Ainley passed away at Mengo Hospital in 1937, it was a great loss to the school. "She will always be remembered for working tirelessly to put the school on the national map," Mugabi says. Clayton Abwooli eventually replaced Ainley as head teacher.

One particular old girl who stands out from the rest was Blandina Karungi. Karungi was blind and deaf, but went ahead and enrolled for a course in domestic science and tailoring. To everyone's surprise she topped her class. She was one of the first girls in the history of Uganda to become a Girl Guide.

Enid Kiiza, an assistant director at Bank of Uganda, says when she joined the school, Karungi was a tailor. In 1951, a tragedy hit the school. Eight old girls were involved in a motor accident, and they all died. They were on their way to a conference at Buloba College to prepare for the school's jubilee celebration.

A chapel was built at the school in their memory, with assistance from Rev. P. B Ridsdale. Today, that chapel is crumbling. The roof is leaking and falling apart, underlining the level of neglect the school has suffered. Like other schools in

the country, Duhaga Girls' School has gone through several phases.

It evolved from a day only school to a boarding only school. Today, it has both day and boarding sections. In its early days, the lower primary section had boys. Another fascinating thing about the school is that long before Uganda got independence in 1962 and came up with the motto: "For God and My Country", Duhaga Girls' School had a similar motto: "For God and Our Country".

It remains to be seen whether the dawn of a new century will change the fortunes of the school. What is clear, though, is that the school authorities say they do not have projects that can sustain it. Most of the school land is managed by Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese and has over time been used for other projects.

As a result, the school compound has been reduced by up to half over the years. The land available to the school houses the teachers' quarters, demonstration gardens, classrooms and dormitories that are in an appalling state of disrepair.

As Duhaga Girls' School's star continued to fade, several other primary schools in the district sprung up and overshadowed it. The district has a total of 180 primary schools with 151 run by the Government, 16 private and 13 community schools.

The infrastructure in nearby schools like Njagala Memorial School, Duhaga Secondary School and Duhaga Boys' School are in stark contrast to the crumbling structures of Duhaga Girls' School. Perhaps the school's centenary celebrations this year will raise the funds needed to revamp the once prestigious school.

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