The story of Mbarara Junior cannot be told without talking about the beautiful environment in which it is located. Founded in 1911 by the Church Missionary Society, the school which was first established at Kamukuzi hill, the then headquarters of Ankole Kingdom is now found at Ruharo hill, also host to Mbarara High School and the gallant St James Cathedral. The school enjoys cool soothing winds from River Rwizi, its natural neighbour and this is coupled with the green scenery at the school thanks to the trees that give the school an unmatched serene environment.
The school was supported by Ankole Kingdom's mission to promote development. When Rev Canon Yoweri Buningwire, one of the visionaries of the school, visited Tooro Kingdom on one of his pastoral visits, he was moved by the way schools were rapidly coming up in the kingdom.
Upon his return, he shared the idea with the then Ankole King Omugabe Kahaya II who presented it to his Parliament and got overwhelming support.
"Omugabe Kahaya II with his prime minister Noah Mbaguta and local chiefs then passed a resolution that every civil servant in Ankole contributes half of his salary to the cause. Part of this money helped to put up infrastructure that later housed Mbarara Junior at Ruharo,"recollects Dr Joshua Muvumba, an alumnus of the school.
From grass thatched
In 1911, the school started in grass thatched hut in Kamukuzi with eight pupils. The school uniform was black tunics (kanzu) with no shoes, and six subjects were taught including discipline, writing, reading, religious knowledge, Mathematics and English. In 1914 when it was re-located to Ruharo, the population had grown to 30 pupils, 23 boys and seven girls.
While at Ruharo, the pupils were separated; girls were taken to where the current Mbarara Junior stands as Mbarara Girls School while the boys remained. In 1952 it became a government-aided school but under supervision of the church.
Prof Babu Nganwa, an old boy of the school between 1951-1957, describes those days as 'modelling', enjoying the good intellect and guidance of teachers they had at that time. He defines life at this school as 'exciting but at the hands of strict disciplinarians'.
Ambassador Dr Robert Mwesigwa, an old boy, but also the chairperson organising committee for the centenary celebrations says being associated with Mbarara Junior remains one of the things he is proud of. "When I look at the Old Girls and Old Boys of this school, their character, morality, public image and how they are shaping not only the communities they live in but the country and beyond, I feel indebted to be associated to this mighty school," he says.
Model UPE school
The school is the oldest in Ankole Diocese and second largest after Mbarara Municipal School in terms of enrollment. It is also one of the Universal Primary Education model schools in the country. The school that started with only eight students now has an enrollment of 1,801 pupils (978 males and 823 females) making it the second largest school in population in Mbarara District.
The school has registered tremendous success both in academics, skilling the child and co-curricular activities. Her pupils have since 2008, passed in Division One and Two only.
Away from academics, the school has also excelled in other fields such as music dance and drama. For the last 10 years, they have been the regional champion and have never gone above sixth position in national competitions in all these years.
Aware of the growing employment challenges, the school has several programmes that include teaching of vocational skills. For instance they have a banana plantation, and other school gardens with a variety of crops, and a piggery project.
"We are not focusing only on academic excellence but wholesome development of a child. We have our gardens where pupils are taken for skills development. We also offer training in knitting, tailoring, and bakery, among others," says Nathan Mugume, the head teacher.
Ankole diocese Bishop, Rt Rev Dr Fred Sheldon Mwesigwa, says the school has survived tides for this long because it is built on a strong foundation which is deep rooted in Christian values. "The school has a tradition, culture and values all premised on knowing God, serving Him and promoting Christian values that is why we are celebrating 100 years." he says.
According to the bishop, Mbarara Junior School has not only been a centre of excellence but has also supported other schools to transform and excel.
"This school has modelled other schools through partnerships such as Ruti Muslim Primary School, Nombe and Kyamugorani primary schools. Our prayer is for education to cause positive impact in communities irrespective of the religious affiliation of these schools," he adds.
Despite the good tides, the school has battled a few challenges in the past such as dropped enrollment, debts of up to Shs200m and several court cases.