Posted: Tue, April 18, 2017 | By: Humanism & Atheism
Projects visited in chronological order:
1. BiZoHa primary school in Muhokya
2. Humanist Primary school in Kahendero
3. Kanyenze model humanist primary
school in Kyarumba
5. Garama Secondary school in Kyarumba
6. Kasese Humanist Primary school in Rukoki
7. Mother Givers humanist school in Buhanga, Kyarumba
BiZoHa school in Muhokya
· Humanist centre hostel - I spent most of my time staying here, which is in Muhokya town just further down the road from the school. This place has good potential. I think in order to attract volunteers it would be key to make sure there is a nice outside area which is private (there is good space for this), as it can get quite tiring to be staying in the town itself where mzungus are a real novelty and there is lots of unemployment and drinking, so you get a lot of attention! But Robert seems to be making good progress with this.
As somewhere to volunteer it would be quite an experience and definitely a challenge, so you would just need the right kind of person as some people may thrive but for others it could be difficult. Although I was on my own which always makes it a little more exhausting!
· School buildings and facilities - The classrooms get very dusty because of the dirt floors, but the students and staff work hard to keep the school as clean as possible. A great
addition to the school could be netball goals and footballs/netballs. The children are really enthusiastic about these sports and organise matches with nearby schools. Particularly for the girls it would be great for them to be able to learn netball properly and use the goals.
· Humanist principles displayed in office and on classroom walls. I saw their weekly debate take place.
· School staff - There is a good atmosphere at the school, and many staff members have a close and open relationship with the students, which is quite different to other Ugandan schools I have spent time in. Phiona is passionate and vocal about humanism and is a great influence on the students. I personally spent a lot of time with two lovely teachers (Okwera Charles and Kitambo Jocknass), who live at the school and played a major role in looking after me and also the boarders, along with the matron. It can be difficult to keep motivation levels up, I think largely due to the very low salaries teachers receive across the country. Nearly all female teachers already had their own children to look after, whom they brought to school. So extra financial and practical support for these teachers could have a big influence.
Below is a photo of teachers and boarding students eating together.
Kahendero primary school
· I visited Kahendero as the Muhokya pupils were playing a football match against Kahendero. The school had a good atmosphere and teachers were very welcoming and kind, and we had a lot
of fun at the football match.
· There was lots of construction work going on at the school site, so there seems to be steady progress here.
· Humanist posters in office, and poster of names of contributors on classroom wall.
See below for photos of the schools grounds and offices.
Kanyenze primary school ·
Much more rural setting. Very few facilities and a smaller site than the other schools.
· Loice Ngurugo was very quiet, and I did not manage to have a proper conversation with her about humanism. It was not clear exactly how convicted or knowledgeable she is about the philosophy.
· However I spoke to parents, students and teachers about humanism. Generally it had been received positively, with parents, teachers and students associating humanism with the practical assistance that BBI has provided the school. I also talked to them about their religious beliefs and practices, and they simply laughed when I asked them if their churches provide any material/financial support to them. So the work of humanists is in stark contrast to this! The students said they are taught about humanism and seemed to be aware of the basic premises, but were facing a little confusion about whether they can continue going to church whilst also being humanist e.g. what if they’re going to church whilst wearing the very shoes donated to them by humanists? Teachers were aware of all the support provided by humanists, but not fully engaged in or aware of humanist philosophies.
· Clinic was stocked with medicine. I didn’t see any doctor or nurse.
MIWODIF and Garama Secondary School
· I spent time in the MIWODIF offices and also visited a vocational project and some women’s savings groups.
· Cathy and two other colleagues – Syson and Robert – were the most engaged in humanism.
· Interestingly, the women’s savings groups also included men (apparently to break up arguments…)
Garama Secondary School
· Cathy and I had a very interesting discussion with the teachers here. When I asked them what they knew about humanism they told me they were ‘green’ about it – a Ugandan expression to mean they are confused. Several teachers felt they had not been informed of who these humanists were and where these donations were coming from. They were
worried that they now have to provide something in return, and what should this be? They held suspicions that humanists were illuminati, and said that many parents believe this too, because they have not been educated or ‘sensitized’ (a word I heard frequently) about humanism. They also said they were told that teachers would also receive some money to help make up for their low salary, but were frustrated that they had heard nothing more about this. There were also many queries about how certain children are chosen to be sponsored, and why there were more girls being sponsored than boys. Cathy handled these questions well, and although she said she has been visiting the school, it seems like it is key to have someone who is responsible for effectively communicating between BBI (and other sponsors) and the people on the ground at Garama.
· I was shown where they are installing the pipe to deliver water to the school. At the moment there is a problem because one of the pumps is on someone else’s land, and there has been a bit of a dispute, although this may be resolved now.
· I met the nurse who runs the clinic here.
· No posters or other visible signs of humanism. The humanist school sign is very small and is placed randomly inside the playground.
See below for photo of sign.
· I did not see Peter Muhindo at MIWODIF or Garama. I emailed him afterwards but he hasn’t replied yet.
Kasese Humanist Primary school in Rukoki
· Very organised and closely timetabled. I think largely thanks to Masereka Solomon. He seems to have the most authority in the school, although they have appointed a newly qualified female head-teacher.
· Teachers had a good awareness of humanism, and humanist posters and magazines are seen clearly throughout the school.
· They are facing a lot of resistance from the local community, including suspicions of child sacrifice. Solomon told me that a couple of years ago some Canadian humanists visited the
school, and at the same time a child at the school died, which heightened suspicions. On the whole it seemed people were generally suspicious of where Robert gets his money.
· So enrolment is fairly low – just over 100 pupils. This is great for pupils at the moment as they have small class sizes and quality teaching, however it is a concern for the school. There
is a lot of competition in this area between different schools, as they all seek students.
· Some of the girls and female teachers asked me to talk to them about menstruation. We had a good informal discussion. In addition to the continuing need for sanitary pads, some time and investment into educating girls on the practicalities of what menstruation is could have a huge impact for them, simply in easing the stress that is brought on through all this confusion and worry.
See below for photos of school grounds and office.
Mother Givers humanist school in Buhanga, Kyarumba
· Very remote and literally on top of Buhanga hill.
· Classrooms very clean and well-maintained. Makes a real difference having cemented floors.
· I met with the women’s group, who were very grateful for all the support they have received. We had a general
group discussion, and they told me how many of them do not go to church because they do not get anything from church and do not see the point of it. They were very enthusiastic about humanism.
· Sebastian showed me the areas where they are planning to build new structures (see photos). He mentioned BBI was concerned because of how close they are to the edge of the hill. It is pretty close! You can see for yourself in the photos. Although Sebastian was confident that the buildings would be safe.
· Sebastian himself was very helpful, organised and punctual. He is quite dour and serious, but only on the surface. He seems to be knowledgeable and committed to humanism. Again there is the interesting situation of having a man heading a women’s group, which is certainly not unique to Buhanga Women’s Group!
See photos below – including space for the new building.
Summary and conclusions
- Most people have positive associations with humanism, usually due to the fact they can see the material support that is being provided through organisations such as BBI.
- In some cases this material support seems to be the main motivation for associating with humanism - rather than an interest in humanism as a philosophy or way of life). I got a sense of this at the Kanyenze school and at Garama.
- Most of the negative attitudes revolve around suspicion about where Robert gets his money from, or a suspicion that humanism is more of a cult (of which there have been some devastating ones in this area, such as the Kanungutragedy in 2000).
- Some people were wary of being honest with me – perhaps about the fact that they practice religion or hold religious beliefs – because I was associated with humanism/BBI and so they did not want to impair thisrelationship.
- There is a large range in terms of how much people know about humanism:
- There are a handful of passionate and engaged people, mainly Robert, Phiona and Solomon.
- There are teachers and other people who know about humanism and are curious about it, such as Cathy, and several teachers at Muhokya and Rukoki schools.
- There are many students, staff and parents of the schools who do not really know about humanism and are more ambivalent about it, but do not have any problem with it.
- There are some people in the wider communities who are suspicious of Robert and the schools.
- It is a big challenge to enable children to think critically, as there is a long and continuing practice of rote learning and repetition, high levels of formality, and in many cases children are lacking in confidence. For example even in the debate at BiZoHa, most children came up with exactly the
- Teachers can often feel left out of the support, and they survive on incredibly low wages, which understandably hampers motivation levels. However I met many kind and dedicated teachers who have the potential to really make an impact. Personally I would really advocate more support for teachers, from what I have seen here and throughout the country.