I was in Primary Four and it was my first term at Budo Junior School having joined that year. My bed was at the extreme end of Nasolo Dormitory next to a vacant decker
Horrific. Nearly eight years ago, the country was shocked when 20 young girls, then pupils of Budo Junior School in Wakiso District, perished in an inferno. There was a similar spiral of school fires in different parts of the country. In Witness this week, Henry Lubega speaks to 16-year-old Ketra Namubiru who was the first to see the fire next to her bed.
I was in Primary Four and it was my first term at Budo Junior School having joined that year. My bed was at the extreme end of Nasolo Dormitory next to a vacant decker. The matron collected all our pillows and piled them on that vacant bed. All our beds were triple deckers.
The day the dormitory caught fire had been a normal day. However, there was no power in our dormitory, I think the bulb had blown because we used a paraffin lantern for light. As we went to bed that night, the lantern was put on the spare bed where the pile of pillows was.
As was a routine, we went to bed and the matron also went to her room. In the night, I was woken up by heat and too much light coming from the fire on the decker where the pillows and the lantern were. I first ran out, then on second thought I came back to wake up my friend with whom we shared the decker. Her bed was below mine. Together we started waking up our colleagues. The matron had not come out of her room yet.
The late Yvonne Namaganda who was sleeping somewhere in the middle of the dormitory was woken up by my friend. Some of those who woke up went ahead to wake others up while others ran out of the dormitory in fear.
As the smoke increased, I too, ran out of the dormitory, but some other children were still inside. We ran out in only our night dresses. There was a lot of noise, with children crying and calling their parents. Those outside and those inside were both calling for help, but we were too scared to go into the fire as it had increased and moved towards the door. It took about 30 minutes from the time I first saw the fire to the time it reached the door.
By that time, at least one teacher had come to respond to our noise. With the fire almost at the door and some children still inside crying, Namaganda went in and started pulling some children out. She did this for about five times until she went in and never came back. Children from other dormitories had by this time also come out. The headmaster also came to the dormitory and told all of us who were residing in Nasolo to go to the field, though it was still dark. In the field, we were told to sit down and be counted. After the head count we were only 20 children although the dormitory housed 66.
After the head count we were taken to the main office. It was while there that my parents picked me up. I don’t know how they got to know, but I suspect the school telephoned them. Other children were picked that very night, we never slept at school. I never wanted to go back after that incident. I had to change school thereafter.
The aftermath of the inferno
Namubiru will this year sit for O-Level exams at Mumsa High School in Mityana District. However, eight years later, the government is yet to release a report on the cause of the fire.
Five years after the incident government made a partial payment to the agreed out of court settlement with the parents of the victims as compensation for the loss. The former Wakiso District chairman Ian Kyeyune was quoted in the media on June 19, 2008 as saying “there was a human hand in the inferno … it was not a mere accident since there was no power or fire in the dormitory and the children had already gone to bed”.
However, the police deputy spokesperson, Ms Polly Namaye, says police investigated the Budo fire and the report was compiled. “From the police investigation two people were arrested and appeared before courts of law. Some of them are still on remand.” Ms Namaye says members of the public interested in the reports on school fires can follow the proper procedures and access the reports.