A Visit to Lake Bunyonyi Primary School, Uganda
We were making our way up the side of the hilly Bwama Island on Uganda’s Lake Bunyonyi to visit a local primary school. ‘Hilly’ being an understatement; most of us were panting ungainly and we weren’t even halfway up.
The little girl who had met us at the shore and gestured for us to follow had practically sprinted up the first part of the incline and slowed down with a giggle when we stopped to rest under the pretence of admiring the view.
Her bare feet found their way easily along the dry, meandering path which promised to lead us to the top of the hill. She broke into a light skip occasionally then stopped abruptly, looking over her shoulder at us shyly to check if we had noticed. I could imagine her mother scolding her that morning, telling her to be on her best behaviour in front of the ‘wazungu’. I smiled back at her conspiratorially. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.
So far she had kept her distance but as we waited for those who had fallen behind, she took a few steps closer.
“Jambo!” I offered, with a smile and a wave. Emboldened, she came to my side and looked up, expecting more. My Swahili ended there. “What is your name?”
“Yes,” she replied, twisting the corner of her white and green patterned cloak between her fingers.
I tried again. “Hannah,” I said, poking myself in the chest a few times. I pointed at her, “What is your name?”
She beamed in comprehension. “Sonya!”
Sonya, whose wise eyes belied just how young she really was, had very little English but made up for it in enthusiasm. “How are you? I am fine!” she sang out as she ran ahead.
As the ground levelled out and we reached the school, Sonya disappeared. I assumed she had squeezed into one of the classrooms while the headmaster walked us from one mud house crammed with children to another.
I stopped in a room to listen to some pupils singing and showing off the English they had learnt.
It was then that I noticed Sonya standing outside, mouthing along to the song. Her big eyes drank in the blackboard and notebooks, pencils and the lucky ones who held them but she made no move to enter. I noticed a sadness that had not been there before.
It was only as we were informed that the school was full to capacity, unable to take in any new students until they had funds to extend the building, that I understood her story as one of the unlucky ones. Sonya made her way up the hill to the school on a daily basis, but all it served to do was remind her of an education which remained firmly beyond her grasp.
Visiting these school children and the neighbouring pygmy community was one of the most humbling and memorable experiences I have had to date. The children and their teachers welcomed us, sang songs for us and went completely out of their way to show their appreciation for our visit – they even stayed more than an hour extra, which is a lot when you realise that the kids have miles to walk between their homes and the school.
I was nearly brought to tears to see how incredibly grateful they are to be at school, even though that means being squeezed into a hot room and sitting on uncomfortable benches or the floor. I felt wretched for how many times I complained about going to school as a child and I swore to myself that should I ever have children, I will do my best to impress upon them that the education they have access to is a luxury to so many others and should not be taken for granted.
This was all on the back of a morning trip to a local hospital to visit our guide’s daughter, who had gone into labour that very morning. After giving birth she was immediately moved out of the hospital onto a mattress on the lawn, which is where we found her. The whole day was one long lesson in humility.
But let’s not make this into a sob story. Thanks to the Lake Bunyonyi Community Centre, the school is getting bigger every year and the children can continue to learn. They do, however, need continued assistance. Taking tourists up to visit the school is one way they are able to earn some money for their cause, and donations (stationery for the school, money, etc.) are always welcomed. If you have it in your heart to help them out in any way, here are their contact details:
- Address: PO Box 143, Kabale, Uganda (E.A.)
- Telephone: (+256) 0774476584
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-Bunyonyi-Community-Centre/291835644197668
I have certain reservations when it comes to aid and charity but this is not a faceless charity. I have been there, I have seen their need, I have seen what they have been able to achieve with some help and I see so much potential.
The Lake Bunyonyi Community Centre also works together with the local pygmy (Bwatwa) communities, possibly the most marginalised people you will ever learn of. We met a group of them while we were there but that topic deserves its own post. Until then, please do share this post and contact them if you are able to help. Alternatively, let me know, and I will get in touch with them myself.