Amelia’s Uganda Diary #4 – Byana Maryhill

Many may wonder how I came to live in Uganda to begin with.

Well, it’s all thanks to my once pen-pal, now fabulous husband, Phillip, and the work his family has been carrying out in their community for over a decade.

In 1997, Phillip’s parents started a small, rural school, in hopes of alleviating the effects of civil war, HIV, poverty and inequality.

Amelia-534048_3141610093937_1223505999_n-s Over the years, it has vastly grown to 350+ children. They also added on an orphanage, and those orphans attend the school totally free. In fact, the majority of the students are enrolled for free, or their families pay drastically less than the actual tuition price. Unfortunately, one of the biggest and universal problems in Uganda (along with many, or even most, other countries), is that school is not free. Because Byana is in such a rural area (3 hour drive from the capital city), most families make very little money. The culture in the village is one of subsistence, so money is only necessary for things such as school. Otherwise, people grow their own food, and trade for different services. Because of the issue of lack of money, one of the goals of the school is to give a high quality education to these rural dwellers, so that they may have a fighting chance against their urban counterparts. True to their promise, last year’s end of term results found Byana ranked as number 157 out of the top 7,000 primary schools in the whole country. 100% of the leaving pupils had passing grades, and 12 of them were top class.

The most impressive part of this story is that the school only has one solar panel, which on a good day can provide around 4 hours of light for morning and evening “preps” (6-8am and 8-10pm). There is no running water, so it has to be fetched from a contaminated water well, there are only 5 small classrooms, and some kids share seats and desks, three small dorms with kids doubling and tripling up on one mattress, and their most recent book, Geography from 2007, lacks so much information which has changed since then, such as the redistribution of the provinces. The teachers had not been payed for three terms, and didn’t have access to television, newspapers or internet to stay up to date with the world until last month. The fact is, the kids, teachers and staff of Byana have been living in squallor, with barely even the basics, yet they have repeatedly performed better than some of the wealthiest and best facilitated schools in the nation. Can you only imagine how excellent things could be if they had all the necessities?

Fortunately, we have started to improve the conditions for the teachers, as they have now been paid installments of their past due salaries, and have received half of this term’s pay. They now have internet, their own garden with things such as tomatoes, eggplant and pumpkin (they were eating beans and cassava with every meal, everyday), and can now watch Al-Jazeera and the local news channels. The doctor, who works absolute wonders with pretty much nothing, now has refrigerator for holding specimens, a fully stocked clinic, and a certified lab technician (one of the nuns), all thanks to a $200 donation.

The children now have a few new bunk beds, though not enough, and a new and fresh variety of foods. Their once barren playing field has a see-saw and tire swings, plus new goalposts, thanks to a generous visitor from Utah.

Things are indeed improving, but when you are caring for 300+ kids with no help from their families, improvement comes in painfully small doses.

One of the plans being discussed is to put a halt to newcomers for the next two years in order to slim down the population to a manageable size. Another plan which we have already put into effect with much success, is to re-evaluate parent/guardian ability to pay. Yes, a simple and obvious solution, but the administration is in control of nuns and monks, who don’t feel the need to demand money. We are currently trying to get non-clergy, professionals to fill the admissions department, but the drawback is that those people demand salaries, which at this time cannot be managed. The sad reality is that in a capitalist society, money is necessary to get by, and when it is forced upon a communal society, it takes a while for that reality to settle in.

So now, only time can tell what will happen. We will continue to do all that we can, but we do accept volunteers and donations in either money or materials. To find out more, we have a webpage that you are welcome to check out and share. The address is: http://byana1754.wordpress.com . To browse through our many volunteer opportunities and ongoing projects, please visit our profile on idealist.org at the address: http://www.idealist.org/view/org/SBwbtsHFgnp/

Last weekend was visitor’s day for the kids’ families. We received enthusiastic support from them, and it was a great feeling to know that the parents could see visible changes, and that they were excited by them. All in all, it has been a nice start to the year. In hopes of a brighter future, we will struggle on.

– Amelia

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One Response

  1. thanks 4 the work u are doing

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