"Community Trans Primary and Nursery school" in Iganga, Uganda in the aftermath of the Corona epidemic.
Report by our volunteer, Hanna Schmidt.
In Uganda the first lockdown lasted from 21 March 2020 until 15 October 2020. During that period all schools were closed completely. Since October 2020 year P7 (final year pupils) were allowed to return to school under strict rules, compulsory mask wearing, daily temperature checks, social distancing and no visitors.
Schools were inspected and issued with a certificate if the rules were implemented correctly.
These regulations were in place until 18 December 2020.
Schools suffered financially, as the fees from year P7 pupils alone did not cover the schools' costs. Parents unable to work and earn an income also struggled considerably.
To cope with the shortfall, the number of teachers for P7 was reduced and their salaries cut; 20% of their wages was covered by "Pro Ugandan Children (PUC) - Schenk Leben e.V.".
Tragedy struck when Headmaster Perezi Were died unexpectedly. Together with his wife Florence, CEO and founder of the school, he had played a vital role and will be sorely missed.
From 3 January 2021 to March 2021 years P5, P6 and P7 briefly returned to school; only for schools to close again completely during the second lockdown lasting from April 2021 to January 2022 - almost a whole year!
On 10 January 2022 schools re-opened for all pupils; by then years P1 to P4 had not been at school for nearly 2 years.
The school now faced new challenges following the death of Florence's husband, the workload of running the school had to be shouldered by 2 instead of 3 - Florence and the Head Teacher.
There was plenty to do after the long lockdown. School fees paid for renovating the classrooms, repairing desks that had been damaged by termites, walls were painted, and the toilets, sponsored by PUC, needed to be fixed.
In addition, the school's finances have been affected by increasing inflation. Since the beginning of 2022 costs have been going up as a result of the war in Ukraine. Maize flour for posho, beans and cooking oil are all considerably more expensive.
20 litres of oil costing 75,000 UGX beginning of January now cost 170,000 UGX; 50 kilograms of beans went up from 72,000 UGX to 145,000 UGX, and 1 kilogram of maize flour 2,500 UGX to 3,400 UGX. Considering that the school's budget was tight at the beginning of the year, it is obvious that times are hard and increasingly difficult.
Besides the conflict in the Ukraine, climate change is another contributing factor. During the last dry season in May/June there was less rainfall than typical for this time of year. Therefore, food had to be purchased from other regions. Petrol has become much more expensive and as a result transport costs also increased which are passed on to the customer.
The number of pupils fell from 556 in 2020 to 485 after lockdown. Parents can no longer afford to send their children to private schools and enrol them in state schools instead, where fees but also teaching standards are lower. The number of children attending state schools is noticeably higher compared to before lockdown.
Often parents cannot pay the full amount and still owe part of the fees for the previous term at the beginning of the new year.
Of course, this financial strain affects the school's budget.
On a positive note, the number of teachers at "Community Trans Nursery and Primary School" has hardly changed, out of the 22 teachers before lockdown, 21 returned.
Florence used donations by family, friends and neighbours following her husband's death to add a new building. Foundations and walls have been completed; the roof and fittings are still under construction, as is the levelling of the outside area. Florence would also like to acquire a neighbouring plot currently available for sale to create a sports ground. However, at the moment the school's funds do not stretch that far.
Children during Lockdown
The majority of children, especially in cities, stayed at home during lockdown without much schooling. Some managed to make a small income from selling eggs or chapati (flat pancakes); others helped their parents in the fields.
Sadly, domestic and sexual violence increased sharply. Financial need forced underage girls into marriage and many girls were unable to return to school due to unwanted pregnancies.
Teachers during Lockdown
Almost all teachers were unable to teach during lockdown and had to seek alternatives to earn money with many finding work in agriculture.
Government made suggestions how children could continue their education, but many of those ideas were impossible to implement in practice. For home study, only 1 book per class was provided, e-learning per Zoom was no alternative either as only a few families could afford a laptop, internet access and electricity. Lessons could be broadcasted via television, but not every family owns a TV set. Radio was also utilised to provide lessons, but the levels of teaching and listeners did not match.
It is fair to say that most suggestions were ineffective and only the well-off were able to continue with education.
Children after Lockdown
Many reported that their children's behaviour changed after lockdown. Having been left alone without supervision for long periods of time they now no longer show any respect towards teachers. Children grew during lockdown and are now the same height as their teachers and do not understand why they should owe respect. Other children who earned money during lockdown and are now being sent back to school by their parents are unmotivated, preferring to make money to sitting in school.
Almost all parents are keen for their children to go back to school if at all financially possible. Children are more respectful towards their teachers and parents do not want their children to sit around at home all day.
Another problem is the newly revised curriculum, as the missed years are supposed to be made up for. Children who were at the beginning of year five before lockdown should now be at level 6, which means during one year they are expected to catch up year 5 and 6. This puts stress on teachers and pupils who had now schooling for 2 years and are now asked to study twice the amount. The new curriculum will be in place for the next 2 years.
The long period of lockdown is over! Uganda is gradually returning to normal everyday life.
No one knows how many people fell victim to the Corona pandemic. Only a few received vaccinations; many survived the disease, sometimes with very severe and long-lasting symptoms.
Unfortunately, this included our project-coordinator Mr Peter Owowri. Following long illness, his strength has now been restored and he is able to return to work.
After having been closed for two years, Community Trans Nursery and Primary School finally re-opened their doors two weeks ago. Of course, we all miss our former Headmaster Perezi. Especially his widow Florence who bravely carries on managing the school's affairs.
Every day more and more pupils return to school, as you can see in the photo below.
We were unsure how many of them would return and are delighted to see that there are as many children excited to learn as before the pandemic.
This encourages us to reach out to Florence and offer all our support for her to resume work as Head Mistress.
We would especially love to support the teachers, who all returned. What a great sign of loyalty towards the school!
We cannot imagine how unbelievably hard the two years without income must have been.
However, knowing that we stand fully behind them gives them hope and encouragement.
Florence tells us that they are relieved and feel a little less worried about the future safe in the knowledge that PUC will continue to offer support - a much needed morale booster!
Every donation makes a difference and is welcomed with gratitude.