Monday January 16 2012

Gertrude Sekabira beyond the blackboard

Gertrude Sekabira, head teacher, Mackay Memorial College

Gertrude Sekabira, head teacher, Mackay Memorial College  

By Mary Atuheire

Even with such a string of successes to her name, Gertrude Sekabira remains a simple woman in appearance, character and outlook. When I entered her office and saw the various trophies and legendary books in the room, I felt intimidated but she immediately stretched her arm and firmly shook mine with a warm smile on her face. She offered me a seat making me feel at home.

Sekabira lives with ambition and is driven by a desire to make people’s lives better. It is this quality that has seen her become a part of the many projects and organisations whose aim is to transform community. One would easily call her super woman because as she speaks about the various roles she plays, you can’t help but get inspired.

Sekabira is currently a head teacher at Mackay Memorial College in Nateete where she has been since 2001. She is a renowned artist who has showcased her works/paintings both locally and internationally. She is a chairperson of Action For Development (Acfode), an organisation involved in activism against domestic violence, a chairperson of an organisation called Mission For All which looks after orphans, a chair at the Head Teachers’ Association of government schools in Kampala which addresses issues affecting head teachers and also started a self-help programme in her home village, Namutumba, where she mobilises and trains people on how to improve their lives by teaching them practical skills like brick making and tailoring. Through the programme, a primary school has been built for the village which 600 students now attend.

Though she is now a woman with many accomplishments, Sekabira’s journey hasn’t been an easy one. She went to primary school in Namutumba district and nearly didn’t complete her primary education because in P.7, her father couldn’t afford her fees and so she missed two terms. But because she was a good student, the head teacher allowed her to sit for the finals which she did and emerged the best student.

Because she had no fees for her secondary education, she prayed and asked God for wisdom. “After listening to a radio advert asking people above 16 who wanted jobs to write to the minister, I wrote telling him I didn’t want a job but wanted to study and was awarded a scholarship by the ministry. I went to Wanyange girls for O’ Level and during holidays, I did small jobs which helped me raise pocket money,” she recalls. She then went to Trinity College Nabbingo for her A ‘level and did History, Literature and Art and got an A in art.

Choosing to teach
Though I qualified to go to university, I opted to go to the National Teacher’s College in Kyambogo to do a two year diploma in art and design in education so that I could be able to finish early and pay fees for my siblings,” she states. Because she was a talented student, when she completed college, she was called back to Wanyange girls to teach art which she did from 1977 to 1979. She got married to Rev David Sekabira in 1979 whom she had been friends with for a while after meeting him at a leadership conference back when she was at Nabbingo. She then went to teach art at Makerere College School till 1987 and after, moved to Mengo S.S. in 1989.

“During this time, I was part of Acode and was working with highly educated people so I felt the need to go back to school and do a degree such that I could easily associate with my colleagues. The government sponsored civil servants at that time so in 1994, I enrolled to do a degree in art at Kyambogo. After my degree, I got a scholarship from the Netherlands Embassy to do a diploma in graphic design in The Hague for six months which I did,” she narrates.

The head teacher
When she came back, Sekabira did interviews to become a head teacher which she passed and was posted to Wairaka College as a deputy head teacher where she worked from 1999 to 2000. She was posted to Mackay Memorial College in 2001. “When I first came to the school, I nearly refused to stay. The buildings were dilapidated, the students, teachers and parents were indisciplined and the school academic standards were very low.

The school had only 265 students and I decided to draw a 10 year strategic plan on how to improve its standards. I don’t regret coming to the school because it was a blessing in disguise. I have managed to teach the students discipline and self-initiative, the number of students has increased from 265 to 1,000, the school’s academic standard has greatly improved, I started a scholarship scheme funded by the former teachers of East Africa living abroad which sponsors students, I have managed to improve relationships with parents and managed to build 10 new structures since 2001.

The students and teachers were not motivated but I helped them see that every child is capable of performing as long as they are given the right attention, facilities and environment,” she says.

When she was posted to Mackay Memorial School, Sekabira decided to do an in-depth research about the late Alexander Mackay who the school was named after. She wanted to know more about him because she was amazed at what he did. She found a rich history about Mackay and that the school was near a spot where education in Uganda had begun. Education begun in a cave in Nateete near the school and it is the spot where Mackay taught the Uganda martyrs from.

This inspired her to write a book entitled Alexander M. Mackay; The Amazing story. It is about Alexander Mackay’s life and the legacy he left behind. The school also made a documentary called The Genesis of Enlightenment in Uganda about where education began in the country. Her research led her to visit Scotland in 2007, in order to tell the Scottish about what their son Mackay did for Uganda and to find out more. She visited the school he went to and got to meet some of Mackay’s family members who have since supported the school.

“As a school, we have started an annual public lecture in memory of Mackay where people are educated on issues Mackay addressed while in Uganda like child sacrifice, domestic violence and other social economic problems,” she says. For Sekabira, her hunger for more knowledge and love for adventure has taken her places she never dreamed she would reach. Her life’s journey is testimony to the fact that one can never stop learning, no matter the age.