Bad news..Good news
Elspeth Dugdale | October 4, 2014
It is probably fair to say that much of the mainstream news from 'Africa' (a huge continent*, not a single country!) is often alarming (ebola, civil wars, terrorism) and deeply concerning (shocking poverty, endemic corruption, extreme climate). So it is easy to think that is the norm. But good news stories and positive developments flourish everywhere, but rarely make it to the front pages.
September, same as the UK, marked the beginning of a new school term in Wobulenzi, but in Uganda this is the third term (think public exams + end of year fun), so there is plenty of academic work ahead! As the school is known for providing low-cost, good quality education, many students travel very far (without parents) to get back to school, and it takes a full week for the school to really get going. From Day 1, they start arriving by coach, by minibus taxi and by boda (motorcycle taxis), and some on foot.
Each boarder brings a metal trunk, plus a mattress, jerry can for water, and bucket. Everyone must contribute 2 brooms, 2 rolls of TP (toilet paper!) and a 'ream' of printer paper plus pay a small medical and library fee. And in the metal trunk? Literally, 'life in a box' - basic school uniform, sheets, toiletries, exercise books, pens, shoe polish, soap, a bag of sugar (if you can afford it), flip-flops and that's it really. No personal clothes, no luxuries and most definitely no mobiles or knives - woe betide those that try! It's a world away from our annual visit to WH Smith or Staples to buy yet another new pencil case for September - something, as a parent, I always seemed to fall for.
Each student brings termly fees (about £40) or half that as most will pay it in two instalments. Everyone has to pay something - although there are some lower rates for deserving and proven cases of poverty.
But students return with big smiles and great expectations. School is a good place to stay and secondary schooling is seen as one of the keys to a brighter future. At Wobulenzi they often talk about two main steps up and out of poverty: Education and Health. In fact, many see it as a three step process, naming Faith as the 3rd vital, but optional step.
Still one of my favourite quotes, from a previous Wobulenzi student from the worst of backgrounds is 'I'm going to be someone in Uganda'. Good news - school can turn a 'nobody' into a 'somebody'. Good news indeed.
(*For Geography fans, Africa is larger than.... China, USA, India, Japan, France, UK, Eastern Europe, Italy, Germany , Spain, Switzerland and Benelux all stuck together- what potential!)