On September 15, Egrets-as Bweranyangi Girls’ Senior Secondary School alumni and current students call themselves, spent the day jubilating as they marked 100 years of the school’s existence at Bweranyangi hill, the West Ankole Diocese seat.
Some people could have looked at it as just another ordinary event. But to the very old girls, founders of the school and those who closely followed, a lot was embedded in this seemingly usual celebration.
In various ways, there was deep reflection on every step the school has taken and the experiences since its inception in 1912. In the Bweranyangi Centenary Magazine-The Egret, the old girls, staff and students share the historical insights about the school and their good and bad experiences.
One highlight by almost every speaker and writer is the school’s humble beginnings at Kamukuzi in Mbarara where it begun with eight girls who were daughters of the rich and important people such as Omugabe (King) and Enganzi (Prime Minister).
Then called Mbarara Girls’ Boarding School, girls slept and studied from a grass thatched house with a mud floor. Today the school has about 1500 students studying from very modern structures.
Pupils fed on sweet potatoes and milk and some wore skins but the richer ones later acquired clothes. It was then under the stewardship of a Church Missionary Society (CMS) worker Ms Mabel Baker.
In 1914 with 30 pupils the school was moved from Kamukuzi to Ruharo hill -the current seat of Ankole diocese where there was enough land to build more structures. Here it lived alongside Mbarara High School, a boys’ school that had started in 1911. But because of constant trouble from the boys who went to the girls’ school at night and the need for enough space because the enrollment was increasing, plans were made to relocate it to Bweranyangi in Buhenyi. It moved in 1952 with Miss Mawer, as head teacher.
Ms Gwene Rukare, one of the pupils who shifted from Mbarara to Bweranyangi at that time shares her memories of the journey and life at the new campus in The Egret: “At the end of third term of 1951 we were told that our school will be moved to Bweranyangi in Igara County,” she recalls.
“The parents were given information on their children’s reports and how the children will travel to Bweranyangi for the first term. The instructions were to put the girls on a Fort Portal bound bus on the agreed reporting date to be dropped off at Nyakabirizi stage. The girls had to move from Nyakabirizi through Nyampimpi swamp carrying their luggage up to the school,” she recalls.
Bweranyangi remained a junior school (up to P6) until 1955 when junior secondary started and later senior secondary in 1965. In 1964 the school was chosen by government among other 25 schools countrywide to be elevated into a senior secondary school. But this came as a surprise to the board and the staff because when they applied for this level supervisors who came to look at their facilities told them that they didn’t qualify.
“I arrived at the school a few weeks after independence, and soon after arriving it was stated that 25 schools in Uganda would be taken up to secondary school level and take O’ and A’ level exams. Our board of governors decided that we should apply to be one of the schools. A team from Kampala visited us and assured us that we had no chance of becoming a secondary school, we were too rural and we were a girls’ school” says Ms Joan Hall, who was headmistress from 1963 to 1974.
But they never got demoralized.
“To our great delight when the list of 25 schools to be upgraded was read out on the radio we heard that Bweranyangi was on the list,” she says in the Magazine. They however had a challenge with starting the senior secondary. Students and teachers arrived when the classrooms had not been erected by the government.
New buildings were erected in 1967 to 1970 and gradually the semi-permanent buildings disappeared. In 1971, president Idi Amin arrived by helicopter and landed in the school hockey pitch to commission the new structures. The buildings included a library, physics, chemistry and biology blocks, two agriculture blocks, two home economics blocks, classrooms, dining room and kitchen, dormitories, toilets, headmistress’s house and staff houses.
Feeding at the time was not that good, according to President Yoweri Museveni who taught at the school for two months in 1965. “The academic performance was excellent, the discipline was good, the cleanliness was good but the feeding for children was not so good. It was in the league of Mbarara High school where feeding was not so adequate. I hope that aspect has been rectified,” he says.
Ms Faith Beyaka who was a teacher in the junior school also says, “Discipline of girls was very good but few cases (of indiscipline) would be handled internally. No expulsions were faced except if one got pregnant.” She was headmistress between 1974 and 1985 when she retired.
Ministry of Defense PS Rossette Byengoma, an old girl, says the institution was managed on strict religious principles. “There were evening prayers which almost every one was expected to attend. There would be singing and praising,” she says.
Like any community, there were stubborn characters in the school. One of such student was women rights activist Miria Matembe. She was naughty which earned her endless reprimands.
“While at Bweranyangi I was very naughty and stubborn. I used to disturb teachers and had several warnings from the headmistress then, Ms Joan Hall. I remember I used to go under desks and start making fun during prep time,” she says.
Ms Mary Kamuli, a legal officer with Uganda Revenue Authority while in senior one in 1993 got a harsh punishment she has never forgotten. “For some reasons I cant recollect I got a punishment and it was to mug (lift) manure from the manure pit behind the dining hall to the banana plantation. The composition of this manure was mainly uneaten bean and posho, Gosh that stuff stinks, to this day I can recall the smell,” she says.
“When I finished carrying the basins I had been ordered to deliver I went to shower, little did I know that we had to report to the farm manager to be cleared. This was on the last day of the school, the next morning I could not get my report because, apparently, I had not done the punishment.”
The St Kaggwa attack
A horrible incident occurred in 1988 when boys from St. Kagwa High School attacked Bweranyangi and beat the girls. The invasion was triggered by an abusive letter to the school written by one of the girls.
The vision of the school is “To produce God-fearing girls of high integrity who will impact positive change in society.” The mission statement is “Molding the girl child into a lady through quality education” while the school Motto is “Sow to Reap.”
Information Minister Karoro Okurut an old girl says the strong Christian foundation makes a Bweranyangi girl to live for a cause greater than herself, and is calm and recollected.
“A Bweranyangi old girl always stands out from the crowd. An average Bweranyangi girls is well groomed, calm and recollected with a commanding presence, courteous and respectable at first glance,” she says.
The First Lady Ms Janet Museveni who was at the school in the 1950s says that as a result of the religious principles Bweranyangi has produced a great number of useful women since its inception.
“…we are called upon to sustain the values and principles that have made the school the paragon of virtue that it is. It is not easy to do so in this age of communication which has made the world a global village, but is absolutely vital to hold on to our values, if we are to retain our identity,” Ms Museveni says.