New Vision (Kampala)

6 December 2012

Uganda: Penpals and the Pupils of Rural Buppala P/S

On this eight acres of land located 5kms north of Idudi Town in Eastern Uganda, exists a massive Muvule tree.

In the mornings, this leafy tree serves as the assembly ground. Hours later it's the headmaster's office whose work station and school documents in a blue metallic casing, are often relocated depending on the position of the shade.

The only permanent four classroom block with no windows or doors is what makes up Buppala primary school. The classroom block was donated by Kirunda Kivejinja, in 2006.

The block is not big enough to accommodate 572 pupils that make up the entire school population. 290 pupils of who are girls and 282 being boys. A meter away from the classroom block stands another of Kirunda's 2011 classroom donation, a wall that measures up to 2ft tall.

Half of the pupils do not wear shoes. When it rains, a big number of the pupils do not come to school. Parents prefer to send their children to work in the rice fields.

Upon reaching puberty most girls drop out because of a lack of privacy while using the latrines, since boys and girls use the same latrines.

Teachers are also known to abandon their duties for a side income like boda boda riding. A big sports ground exists at the school but with no sports equipment.

These are among the many challenges that the pupils of Buppala primary school always tried to paint in the series of letters that they wrote to their American pen pals in Radnor middle school, since 2009.

History of Buppala

Buppala primary school, the only school in Buppala village started as a Sunday school class in 1932. It turned into a community primary school in the late 1950s with P1 and P2 classes. Parents decided to build their children two grass thatched houses.

In the mid-60s the school gradually added more classes P3-P7. In 2008, it shifted ownership to government, licensed in 2009, and had 9 teachers posted to it.

How did the pen pal program start?

This program started three years back by a group of 30 youths of Wider Opportunities for Women and Youth Association SACCO (WOWOYA), whose initial goal was to eliminate poverty in Iganga district.

Paul Kibendi, the coordinator of the WOWOYA in Iganga district says that apart from helping youths set up small projects such as piggery, poultry raring and maize and groundnut growing, WOWOYA also wanted children to have a chance to a decent education.

"One day a member tipped the group about a pen pals program. I followed it up, started surfing the web immediately. I discovered Joanne Trangle, the founder of Kuchanag travels voluntourism Eco-Adventure, who helped connect Buppala primary school to Radnor middle school," Kibendi said.

Why Radnor middle school got interested

Moved by the desire of the adolescent girls to have some kind of privacy every time they visited the latrines, Radnor middle school of Pennsylvania US which has about 3,600 pupils decided "Let's build them a new latrine."

Amazed at her pupils' decision, the language arts teacher who runs the pen pal class, Jodi Sabra, a friend of Trangle asked them, 'are you serious!' Determined they replied, "We can do it."

How did they make it happen?

Sabara contacted Trangle, and shared with her what her pupils wanted to do. Trangle supported the idea and they immediately set off for Uganda with the head teacher, Edward Bukye to find out how much it would cost to build a latrine.

The estimated cost came to $5000 (12.5m). Determined to see their project through, the pupils kept asking Sabara how much was needed for the project so that they can raise it and she said "$5000.

The pupils then organized a move-a-thon (dance party) to raise the money. They raised $2300 (5.7m), but they were not impressed. Determine to make more, they found one of the top Zumba instructors who connected them with a local health club that sponsored a giant Zumbathon, and pool party, about $2500 (6.2m) was collected. It was enough to get the project going.

Among other fundraising events was homework. Pupils were excused from doing a homework assignment if they paid $1 (shs2490). A wine tasting event raised $1000 (2.4m). The yogurt tile tales project sponsored by the Radnor educational foundation (REF), pupils, parents, and well-wishers also helped raised a decent amount of money. REF provided a $4500 grant for the shipping.

"We wanted to give Buppala a lasting memory, a latrine that could not get filled or closed. One they would use forever, and benefit from" Trangle said.

Tangle says that the school can sell manure to farmers from the waste when the latrine fills up. But, the head teacher, Bukye thinks otherwise, "We are going to use it to start up our own school farm. It will help provide food for the pupils, and when the farm expands we shall be able to sell out both food, and manure."

The latrine has two holes at the squatting spot. Urine drains into the small hole, and the big one passes down solid waste, which all ends up in two different septic tanks.

Every day after use, the waste will be followed up with ash, which kills the bacteria. When full, it is emptied in a larger container, covered with ash, and left to decompose for 6months into healthy manure.

This vision that was masterminded in 2010, December by the pupils, commenced in 2012, June, and was officially opened by Sabra and Trangle on August 01, 2012. This new facility stands as the only complete building out of the five.

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