15 December 2012

Uganda: The Mess At Mulago Paramedical School

Mulago Paramedical School re-opened two weeks ago after a strike by the institution's over 200 students. However, only first year students were allowed in. Students in second and third year will await the decision of the institution's governing council. John Semakula and Jessica Nawati found out what you did not know about the strike.

After paying tuition for a diploma course at Mulago Paramedical School, Peter packed his belongings and on September 24 set off for school.

As a first year diploma student, he was excited about his new challenge. His view of Government training of medics, the people who keep others alive, was grand. At least, he said, he thought it was better than St. Joseph's Nagalama, his O'level school, in terms of meals, accommodation and a friendly reading environment.


That hope was crashed on his first day at the school when he failed to get where to sleep. The hall was full to capacity. After several vain attempts, he, and a group of several other students, sought the help of their guild president. "The guild president got us somewhere on the floor where we placed our mattress and slept off. After some days, we were allocated rooms, but very congested," he said.

At the paramedical school, it is mandatory that every student resides in the institution's halls of residence. The administration wants intern medics in halls in case of a late night emergency at Mulago Hospital.


However, the accommodation problem was only a tip of the iceberg. Peter soon discovered that the hall had no electricity. After failing to pay UMEME's debt of sh916m, the school preferred to install solar panels instead.

At the beginning of the semester, according to Peter's revelations, whenever the panels failed to power the bulbs, the school fueled its generator, but with time, this stopped and students started spending nights in darkness.


Peter said he also paid sh70,000 as book fee when he was joining, but for three months, he failed to access one of the only three copies of the core books of Anatomy and Physiology in the library.


Food was also a nightmare, he said. For six days in a week, students are served posho and beans, infested with weevils. Wednesdays are for rice and beans. But the rice is always full of stones that you cannot eat it, Peter says.

"The school has cooking oil in the stores, but never fries our beans. In fact, on Independence Day, we were surprised to be served beef. This was the first time this semester," he said.

The strike:

"Whenever we complain of the poor services, the administrators threaten us with expulsion. By the time it came to a riot, things had truly run out of control," he said.

Peter added that they were also bitter that they do the work of fully employed doctors in Mulago Hospital, but without anything to motivate them.

Administration explains:

The school's principal, James Rwandembo, said the strike was because of absence of power. He said UMEME switched off the school for a debt of sh1b. Because they could not raise the money, they installed solar panels.

"The power is there, the only challenge was that the students cannot use solar to iron," he said.

Rwandembo insisted that the allegation of bad food was news to him because the school's stores are stocked with jerry cans of cooking oil, cabbages and sacks of rice and maize flour.

But he acknowledged the shortage of some of the crucial text books in the library, saying science books are expensive. He said one book can go for sh1m and that the school is currently relying on Internet sources.

Alfred Otim, the deputy principal, said the students' grievances are many and need time to be resolved.

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