21 November 2012

Uganda: Bulega Was Carved Out of a Tree Shade

You might have seen some rural schools with run-down classrooms. Others have decent classrooms, but no desks. However, many have had to study under tree shades, with stones and tree roots serving as seats.

That is how Bulega Pri- mary School in Wakiso district started several years ago. It took three decades before it could get a real classroom or a head teacher's office.

Bulega was reborn, thanks to the sacrifi ce, hard work, patience and commitment of Stephen Mwesige and those who stood by him.

Tree school:

The year was 2004. Mwesige had been transferred to Bulega P/S as the head teacher. How- ever, on arrival at the school, he was shocked when he was shown a mango tree shade as his office.

He could not believe it artist, that was going to be his new 'office building' for months. Although Bulega was a government-aided school then, it did not have any permanent structure.

The nearest permanent building was an incomplete church, whicih too could not provide shelter for the pupils when it rained. Memories of teachers carrying blackboards to school every day and hanging them onto tree stems in the compound, are still fresh in many former pupils' minds.

Bulega was, at the time, the only school in the area. Pupils walked for as long as 8km to study at the 'tree school'.

The beginning:

In 1972, an old man, Sylvester Ssalongo Kalega, donated a piece of land to set up a com- munity school to cater for the increasing number of school- going children in Bulega.

Kalega passed on years ago. "My husband offered the land to build a school so that the children in the area could get an education," explains Kalega's widow.

Andrew Mugenyi-Asooka, the school management commit- tee chairman, recalls that most youth in the area were engaged in stone quarrying and fi shing at the time. Bulega P/S was started in 1973, but the fi rst classroom at the school was built over 30 years later.

The wind of change:

When Mwesige was posted to Bulega P/S in 2004, the wind of change swept through its trees. Having come from Masulita Junior School, which was in a better state, Mwesige was speechless when it was confirmed that the 'tree school' was his new workstation.

"Artist, I thought I was at the wrong school. I asked the driver to ascertain whether this was the school I had been posted to and we were assured that I was in the right place. I was devastated," he recalls. Heaps of stones around the trees welcomed him to his new station.

A mango tree shade at the extreme end of the compound was going to be his office. "The following day, I went to the district headquarters, demanding to be transferred to another school," he notes.

But his request was rejected. "I was only consoled by the assurance from the district au- thorities that I would get all the support I needed to develop the school," he says. Mwesige had joined Bulega towards the end of the third term.

When the new term started the following year, he reported to school each morning and sat on one of the biggest tree roots in the compound, registering pupils. By the end of the artist week, he had registered 23 pupils from Primary one to Primary Seven.

With support from the local authorities and the nearby church's lay leader, Mwesige mobilised parents to take their children to the school. He also convinced four teach- ers to join him. "This was a great improve- ment and there was no turning back," explains one of the schools' former students.

In one month, they registered 250 pupils. Mwesige was the only teacher on the payroll. The others who had been posted to the school, shunned it.

Though Bulega did not have any records, textbooks or classrooms and desks, it slowly got a new lease of life under Mwesige.

After opening for frst term, Mwesige rented a room near the school to act as his office. He also constructed a struct- ture, where pupils could seek shelter whenever it rained.

"Instead of running to the nearby trading centre whenever it rained, they would take refuge in the covered shelter," he notes. However, a few months later, termites destroyed the poles and the wind brought the structure down thereafter.

Later, in 2005, the Katabi sub- county LC3 chairman, Gerald Mukasa, mobilised parents and other residents and they constructed two classrooms and an office. The education ministry provided 300 chairs and tables to furnish the classrooms.

"We allocated the new class- rooms to P1 and P2 and the rest of the classes continued to study under trees," Mwesige explains. The Government posted two teachers to the school in 2005.

Currently, there are 11 teachers at the school, three of whom are not on the Govern- ment payroll. In 2008, Katabi sub-county and Wakiso district constructed more buildings for the school.

Today, it is only P.4 that lacks a classroom. The pu- pils study in a nearby church. The school also lacks enough toilets for boys. Today, Bulega has about 400 pupils, "and its future is bright," as Mwesige puts it.

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