The last time Gerald Kijjambu entered a class for formal studies was at Plies Secondary School which was opposite Uganda Museum, in 1968. He was in Senior Three and was 24 years old. He however did not complete O’ Level.
“After dropping out of school in 1968, I joined my family business which was farming and my main duty was to harvest coffee,” he recalls.
From that time Kijjambu did not think of going back to school given the needs and responsibilities that surrounded him especially when he got a family to look after.
He later started a tailoring business in Nindye B village, Nkozi Sub County in Mpigi District, which he managed along with coffee farming.
50 years down the road however, Mzee Kijjambu saw the need to enroll for a vocational course when he realised that he was missing out on a number of things in the modern and fast-growing world, and when an opportunity presented itself, he did not miss it.
In 2011, President Museveni commissioned Katonga Technical Institute, located at Nindye B village. This was a pledge the president was fulfilling, in building a monument for the 1986 guerilla war heroes. The institute offers free education to the locals who have non-formal training. Kijjambu felt encouraged to enroll for a vocational course, when during a rally, President Yoweri Museveni talked about the institute.
“I wanted to make use of this institute because it was a reward for those who directly or indirectly participated in the liberation war. Whereas some people were interested in getting cash as a reward for participating in the struggle, I saw a chance of acquiring a skill that would make me earn more money than what my other colleagues got,” he said.
The need to improve his business also spurred him to register. In his tailor shop, Mr Kijjambu only worked on fixing old and torn clothes that people brought.
“They did not give me good-looking or new clothes to work on; this means that even the pay was far less than what they would give to a tailor who worked on their better and newer clothes,” he said.
With the coming of the institute, he hoped to get chances of not only working on better paying clothes but also getting skills to make clothes which he could sell at good prices.
In 2014 Kijjambu registered for a tailoring and garment cutting course. Soon after he started being ridiculed, as many people in the village saw him as a joker who would not complete the course. He says they thought that he would not be in position to understand what was being taught in class.
“But I ignored all that they said about me and I went ahead until I finished,” he said.
This was a four-month practical oriented course under the directorate of industrial training (DIT) and it leads to the award of a Level 1 certificate since it is undertaken by non-formal students who enroll without an O-Level certificate.
While in class, Mr Kijjambu did not find many challenges apart from using old fashioned and vandalised machines for practicals.
“What we learnt was really brief and I need much more of it. Since it is a short course, they should introduce students to modern machines and make the course longer to at least a year,” he said. He however appreciated the fact that the course was not time-consuming which allowed him time to do his other work.
Despite his age, Kijjambu did not give a difficult moment to his instructors both in terms of behaviour and in class work according to his lead instructor Ms Merabo Mukuba.
“I enjoyed teaching him and his other colleagues who were advanced in age,” Ms Mukuba said.
Although he completed the course in 2014, he had to wait until 2019 when the institute held its first graduation ceremony which was attended by students who also completed in the subsequent years.
“I felt like jumping high in the sky when my name was read among the graduands on that day as I stepped out of many in the midst of my community who used to criticise my decision to go back for studies at my age. It was unbelievable. I always admired the children putting on graduation gowns not knowing that at last my day would come by,” he said referring to the day when he graduated.
He is now proud of his achievement and is already seeing the results at his shop. He was known as a simple village tailor, but now he is recognised as a professional who receives orders (tenders) to make uniforms for various schools within the surrounding sub counties of Nkozi, Kammengo and Buwama.
“With the professional skills I have, which gave me an opportunity to become busier, I had to train some young blood that would help me deliver the work in time,” he explained.
Mr Kijjambu is now looking for an opportunity to take up the second level of the course. According to Mr Joseph Kiiza an instructor at Katonga Technical Institute, on completion of the first level, one has to undertake two more courses under DIT to attain a Craft I certificate which is equivalent to an A-Level certificate.
“In case Mr Kijjambu is interested in further studies in this course, he would enroll for a Level II course and then the third level courses which are all paid for by DIT,” Mr Kiiza told Daily Monitor.
Unfortunately the chances at Katonga Technical Institute seem to be minimal because there are no students vying for it.
“We have to wait until we register at least five students of the 20 who are required by DIT to start the second level,” Mr Alex Mwanga another instructor said, but was quick to add that Kijjambu may enrol for the second level course in another institute since he passed the first level with good grades.
From his experience at the institute, Mr Kijjambu says he would like the government through the institution to avail start-up kits like sewing machines and tool boxes to graduating students through loans, which loans they would pay back when they start making money.
“Some people get the skills and sit back at home as they look for money to buy the tools to use while putting into practice what they have learnt but if the institutions give out those tools to each graduate basing on the courses they are undertaking, the government’s goal to create jobs would have been met,” he says.
For now, he is looking forward to improving his business as he plans on advancing in his studies.