“An alumni can only be as proud as their former school. If the school is not doing well, they cannot feel proud,” Charles Ondoga, the head teacher of St Joseph’s College, Ombachi in Arua District, said when asked about old students’ contribution towards the development of the school.
This is why old girls from Sacred Heart Girls Secondary School met for a grand re-union in Gulu last week. It was not only about dining, but a major cause to fundraise for the construction of a school dispensary estimated to cost Shs100m and will cater for more than 1,200 students at the school.
According to Sr Hellen Lamunu, the head teacher, the old dispensary is in a dilapidated state and was constructed to cater for only about 400 students, a number that has since tripled, putting a strain on it.
Last month, Gen Ali Kiiza, a retired presidential pilot and senior presidential advisor on Airforce affairs, took time off his duties and travelled to Masindi, his home district to offer career guidance on being a pilot at an old students’ reunion of Kabalega Secondary School.
At Immaculate Heart Girls Nyakibaale in Rukungiri District, a state-of-the-art golden jubilee Complex was inaugurated in July with a Shs100m contribution from old girls.
In the present day, old students’ reunions are no longer just about a meet-and-greet sessions with drinks and food and a rewind of the good old days. Increasingly there is a shift on how they are impacting former schools.
The reasons for the increasing number and vibrancy of old students’ associations across the country vary.
From the desire to revive the lost glory of impressive performance both in academics and co-curricular activities of their former schools; bailing out needy students; career guidance to improving on the existing infrastructure. The list goes on.
The contribution does not have to be monetary. Often, alumni need to interest themselves in the affairs of their former school such as academics, extracurricular activities, among others.
Aaron Semakula, a former student and the former chairperson of Uganda Martyrs SS Old Students Association Namugongo, one way to for an institution to ensure its quality is when old students engage in its affairs. He notes that people may ignore affairs of the universities they attended but not the schools because they are the foundation. Ivan Mugume, an old student of Kabalega Secondary School in Masindi District, says students need career guidance from the old students to serve as encouragement. “Today’s students want visible examples. By founding old students’ associations, the alumni are inspiring the young crop in schools by setting a perfect example,” he says.
Similarly, Ssemakula says when the alumni go back to their former schools, they inspire students to work hard.
Ondoga says their old boys association meets twice every year and it is during these gatherings that they fundraise money for different school projects.
“Our project this year is to renovate structures. The old boys decided to renovate the dining hall. Last year, they gave us a solar lighting system, text books, and they also provide resource persons to help students in revision,” Ondoga explains.
In addition to the dispensary, the old girls of Sacred Heart rescued the school in time for the 2017 games. “We co-hosted the East African games in 2017, and the school was running into a financial crisis. It is the old girls who saved the situation by using their money to renovate sections of the school including the school fence,” Lamunu says.
To celebrate Uganda Martyrs SS Namugongo’s 40 anniversary, the old students built the school gate. To achieve their objectives, Ssemakula says they mobilise fellow old students, the companies they work for, and parents.
Catherine Lamwaka, the outgoing chairperson of Sacred Heart Old Girls Association in Gulu District, says, they are concerned about monitoring the school performance and pay visits to the schools and interact with students and teachers to find out the challenges the school is facing in academics.
“We realised there was a gradual drop in school performance of the girls especially in the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education. We also monitor the welfare of the students and their discipline,” she says.
Lamwaka says they also carry out mentorship programmes. “During mentorship, we select nine role models amongst ourselves, and as a team we go and talk to the girls. Sometimes, we talk to candidates only especially when approaching national exams.”
At Namugongo, the old students also organise annual medical camps to benefit the surrounding community and are active towards the development of the school.
According to Ssemakula, the medical camp is an annual activity where trained medical doctors and health workers who are former students of Uganda Martyrs SS, organise medical camps for Kira, Namugongo, Mbalwa in Kira municipality and as far as Luweero.
“We first do a needs assessment in the community, such as the prevalence of a disease to make sure what we want to address is what the particular area needs. This year we focused on the ear, nose and throat treatment,” Ssemakula says.
At St Mary’s College, Namagunga, the old girls encourage those who were former students and are now teachers to apply and work at the school. Angella Nampewo, an old girl at the school, says through career talks, they morale boost students especially towards exams to perform highly.
But they are also concerned about staff welfare. They have built more staff houses to allow teachers to stop sharing and also hold a teachers’ outing once a year.
However, at Mbale S.S, the situation is different. According to Moses Buyela, the current head teacher, the old students’ union is currently limping but there are efforts to revive it. Buyela says most old students only contribute individually towards the development of the school.
He says: “The old students are trying to revive their association. Some of them put up scholarship schemes and prizes in the school for excelling students who score A in Mathematics during Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education exams, and these are awarded with Shs100,000.”
The Mathematics award is still running sponsored by an old boy, Prof Fabian Nabugomu, the current deputy vice chancellor Finance and Administration at Kyambogo University.
Buyela says Francis Mashate, the former executive director of Uganda Bureau of Statistics, an old boy of the school founded the debating award. The winning group is awarded with Shs500,000.
Holding strings together
Having an old students’ union is no mean feat especially when most people are scattered across the country and abroad.
To keep the unions active, it takes involving various media such as social media, opening chapters in different regions and keeping contacts of former schoolmates.
For example, at St. Josephs’ College, Ombachi, the school has more than 1,000 old students. To keep unity, new chapters were opened for ease of administration. “We have a chapter in Arua, Jinja, Kampala, Entebbe and western Uganda. These chapters normally meet at least every two months. But our gatherings are twice a year,” Ondoga says.
But to support their schools, alumni must have remarkable willingness from the schools’ administration.
That is why Ondoga adds that he keeps the old boys informed of any major programmes in the school.
At Uganda Martyrs S.S Namugongo, the data base of 4,300 old students are organised into professions and use WhatsApp to keep active.
“We organise the old students in various professions such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists among other professions. With those small units, the overall association is easy to manage,” Ssemakula notes.
At Sacred Heart Girls SS, to keep membership active, Lamunu says members must show commitment by paying annual subscription fee of Shs25,000. Subscribed members are the only ones eligible to vote on contentious issues affecting the school.
Students associations are facing dissent from some old students who do not see any personal benefit derived from such unions, according to Ssemakula.
Ondoga says: “The challenge is we have some sluggish members while others are passionate about what they do. Sometimes, it demotivates them; and for any association, disagreements will always exist. Some just choose to be at loggerheads with the institution.”
Perhaps the greatest danger is negativity towards associations. “They feel unbothered since they left the school, but we tell them these associations are good for networking too. The finances are an issue, we try to mobilise finances with difficulty so we are forced to rely on those members who want to give more than others,” Semakula asserts.
It is time everyone joined an association of their alumni!
Regional chapters. At St. Josephs’ College, Ombachi, to keep unity, new chapters were opened to ease of administration. There is a chapter in Arua, Jinja, Kampala, Entebbe and western Uganda which meet at least every two months awaiting annual gatherings which happen twice a year.
Professions. At Uganda Martyrs S.S Namugongo, the data base of 4,300 old students are organised into professions such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists and use WhatsApp to keep active.
Commitment fee. At Sacred Heart Girls SS, members must show commitment by paying annual subscription fee of Shs25,000. Only those who subscribed can vote on contentious issues affecting the school.
Pledges. At Kabalega Secondary School in Masindi, old boys pledge items and finances individually which are gathered into a pool and contributed to the school at the Old Boys’ retreat that takes place annually.
Reviving lost glory
In his opinion recently, Rt Rev Dr Fred Sheldon Mwesigwa, detailed his awe at the solidarity with which OBs of Mbarara High School have elected dormitories to replace the historical Addis Ababa Dormitory that was gutted by fire in April 2016. “A new dream was conceived by the OBs, irrespective of which dormitory they had resided in, to replace the charred and archaic block with a more modern dormitory.
They embarked on erecting a mega three-level building with large rooms, washrooms and other amenity rooms. Upon completion, the new Addis dormitory will accommodate about 300 students. In addition, washrooms for a yet-to-be rebuilt Achimota House are also due for completion in the Addis Dormitory phase. What is most astounding is the exceptional zeal with which the OBs from different year groups and professions have mobilised for the project.”