His dream drove him from UK to Uganda
Posted Sunday, January 27 2013 at 00:00
What would a British teacher living in comparable comfort want in a Third World country like Uganda? To fulfil a lifelong desire to help the community was the motivationfor John Kirkwood.
It is not easy to afford an education in Uganda, not with cases of orphans and poor parents.
That is why the efforts of 60-year-old John Kirkwood, a British teacher, have transformed the lives of many in Bukaya, Njeru. He has spent the past 33 years teaching and working with children in Uganda and Kenya, but most importantly, he started a charity that pays fees for children who cannot afford it.
Kirkwood speaks calmly. He is composed, laughs easily and has a sense of humour. When you run into him at home with his adopted children, he strikes you as a loving father to many fatherless children in eastern Uganda.
Coming to Africa
In 1976, he left the comfort of his home in Great Britain to come spend his working life teaching and assisting the less fortunate children to obtain an education in Uganda, but he first went to Kenya. His first attempt was as housemaster and teacher of Maths, English and Commerce at Starehe Boys Centre in Kenya. He came to Uganda in January 1986 to join St Charles Lwanga Kasasa in Kalungu, Masaka as deputy head teacher.
His role in these institutions led him to start Tofta Education Trust, a charity named after a family farm in northern England. He sold the farm to raise the funds he used to start the charity. It is a calling he had partaken while still in England.
“For long, I had wanted to do something for the community. Since teaching was my passion, I knew this was the time to fulfill my dreams. I realised many of my students did not have the capacity to continue with education because their parents have no insurance scheme. To me, losing a child and the education was a double blow to Ugandan children hence thinking twice on how I could help them.”
He speaks of a little boy’s tears striking him hard in his heart in 1987. “While at St Charles Lwanga Kasaasa, one young boy I taught English came to bid me farewell. I asked him why and he told me his parent could not pay.
I was so touched by his tears that I told him not to go home until I discussed the issue with the administration. I took him up and to date, he works with me,” says Kirkwood.
That little boy, Peter K. Kalibaala, one of the beneficiaries, is now Director Tofta Education Trust. He praises the man who helped him, when finishing his education seemed impossible.
“I first met John Kirkwood in 1987 while a student at St Charles Lwanga Kasasa. At that time; I was in S2. This meant that I had to leave school and return home only to become a village boy who is useless to community. However, as I went to bid him farewell, he told me to stay around for some time as he finds me a solution. Today, I am who I am because of John Kirkwood.”
Peter Kalibaala is not the only influential person who has been taught by the Rotarian. Apollo Sansa, the Kamuswaga of Kooki, passed through Kirkwood’s hands before he got sponsorship from the Government to study abroad.
Twelve years down the road, John Kirkwood, through his Tofta Education Trust, has educated over 1,525 Ugandans. “We are funding 209 students both in primary and secondary levels, regardless of their sex, tribe, race or religion,” says Josephine Okello, administrator Tofta Educational Trust.
Tofta Education Trust saw the birth of Lords Meade Vocational College, named after the family home in southern England, right after the death of Kirkwood’s mother.
With an aim of helping the less fortunate in Jinja, Njeru and Uganda at large, it is 10 years down the road, and Kirkwood has enjoyed seeing the timid, rather lost soul find themselves at Lords Meade Vocational College and turn into young people brimming with confidence and running their own companies.
Mr Raymond Ouma, the headmaster of the school, says Lords Meade is a wonderful dream and true manifestation of the Rotarianism in Mr John Kikwood. That is helping the community.