Bududa turns earth-moving equipment into classrooms

Thursday February 23 2017
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Back in time. President Museveni visits the scene of the mudslide in 2010. Photo by David Mafabi

On March 1, 2010, the severest mudslide ever recorded in Uganda’s history occurred in Nametsi village, Bududa District, leaving at least 365 people dead and scores displaced.
It is believed that the death toll was higher, only that some of the victims were buried too deep in the mud and the rescue operation was abandoned after hopes of encountering any more survivors vanished.
Earth-moving equipment that was used in the rescue operation and was abandoned at the site has now found another use – seating learners in a makeshift classroom.

Class time
The survivors, because their homes had been destroyed but especially due to fear of a repeat of the mudslides, were relocated to a camp in Kiryandongo District, hundreds of kilometres from their original home.
But many of them, especially because they say there is lack of basic amenities in the camp in Kiryandongo, have since made their way back to Nametsi village.
At 11.48 am on the day this reporter visited Nametsi village, Base Nafuna, 12 and in primary three, was at her home peeling potatoes for lunch.
A new term had just begun but she had not made her way to the makeshift primary school in her vicinity. After the 2010 tragedy, government shut down Nametsi Primary School, which had been under the Universal Primary Education programme, and sent children to neighbouring schools as others were relocated to Kiryandongo with their parents.
The returnees, with their children unable to commute to other primary schools because they are many kilometres away, are now attempting to reopen Nametsi Primary School.
Mr. Daniel Kuloba, who dropped out of school in senior two, was attending to a class session (a mixture of P1, P2, P3 and P4 classes) as we arrived. He used a mixture of English and Gishu languages.
The children stand up as we approach the classroom and, in chorus, say: “You are welcome sir; this is our new school in Nametsi in Bududa.”
After a moment they resume their “seats” on the earth-moving equipment.

“The school”
There are no classrooms, no teachers and no scholastic materials to enhance the teaching and learning process. Children just sit in the open and when it threatens to rain they rush back home.
Nafuna, who we found home peeling potatoes during class hours, said she has dreams of becoming a nurse to treat especially children suffering from malaria.
To achieve her dream, it appears, will be a tall order. Her only teacher at the new school, the senior two drop-out Mr Kuloba, says he volunteered to teach the children.
“I am not paid for this but all schools here like Bufuma and Bukalasi primary schools are about five kilometres away and when I found many children staying at home after their parents relocated here, I volunteered to teach them,” Mr Kuloba says.
“And once in a while when parents sell their crops and get something small, they pay me an allowance to say thank you,” he adds.
Mr Kuloba says depending on the weather, the school usually closes early during the rainy season to allow pupils and teachers rush home for shelter to avoid the 2010 incident. The learner population fluctuates between 40 and 87.
Mr Michael Wanga, a parent at the school, says teachers, the environment and the learner are the key areas facilitate learning and teaching. But, he says, he sends his child to this “school” because she is too young to walk five kilometres through the mountains to attend a better school.

Why did they leave Kiryandongo?
Mr Musa Ecweru, the minister of state for disaster preparedness, says safety comes first and that the government considers that it is unsafe for these people to continue staying in Nametsi.
“As far as we are concerned all people were relocated to Kiryandongo and whoever has gone back is illegally in Nametsi because even the schools were closed. So government has no plan of catering for people who were relocated to Kiryandongo and have gone back to Nametsi,” Mr Ecweru says.
Mr Ecweru says once the government relocates people from disaster-prone areas, “it defeats logic” if those people insist on returning to those areas.
Mr Ecweru adds: “Many people think that those people [in Kiryandongo] left, but the truth is they are still there. The only challenge they were facing is where to take their children since there was no government secondary schools and we hoped the Ministry of Education would take over building of the vocational institution government promised.”
Ms Rosemary Seninde, the minister of state for Primary Education, says she is new in the Ministry and still learning the ropes, hence unable to comment about the matter.
She settles for a generic comment before issuing a vague promise: “I know that there are challenges in the education sector in the country but these can’t be addressed at once. We have to plan adequately to cater for everyone,” Ms Seninde says.
“I can’t promise that this issue will be sorted out so soon but we ought to put our hands together with the local leaders to see how we can help in the short term.”
Mr Wanga, the parent, says in the meantime cooperation between the school and parents to ensure that the pupils learn something will be key as they wait for help from the government and elsewhere.
On their decision to leave Kiryandongo for their home area, Mr Wanga says: “Irrespective of how we got back here, our children are Ugandans and (the) government should help our children get education as a right. The government should open up a new school or re-open Nametsi Primary School, equip it and recruit teachers for them.”

Word from local authorities
Mr Wilson Watira, the LCV chairman for Bududa District, confirms that some of the people who had been relocated to Kiryandongo got back to Nametsi with their families despite government warnings of another mudslide.
The warnings about the mudslide, experts say, make even more meaning in times like this when the rains are just beginning after months of prolonged drought.
“There are people who have come back to Nametsi with their children who need urgent help but government is quiet on re-opening of the school. Many of them have talked about bad conditions of living in Kiryandongo and have come back home,” Mr Watira says.
Mr Watira. Adds: “And we think as (the) local government that government should re-open the school, send teachers there and find an alternative school within for these many children who need an education as a basic right.”
Mr Watira claims that according to UNICEF, children living in rural Mt Elgon hilly areas, including Nametsi, are less likely to attend school because the distances to school are long, the facilities are poor and the needs of child labour area great.
Mr David Kusolo, the LCII chairman of the area, decries the lack of basic school infrastructure, which he says is sure to deter effective learning.
“There are no qualified teachers for our children; there is no classroom ever since government closed Nametsi and Tunwasi primary schools,” Mr Kusolo says.
Mr Tsoba Matsatsa, the LCI Chairman, says when they were relocated to Kiryandongo for resettlement, they found in place only 100 houses and that although the shelter provision programme was expected to resume shortly afterwards, that did not happen.
Mr Matsatsa adds: “Some of the families got dejected and left the settlement complaining (about), among other things, famine and shortage of land and opportunities for them in an alien land.”
He says the people chose to return “to plough their fertile ancestral land on Mt Elgon slopes with their children instead of fighting for land in an alien land”.
“I am actually surprised that there are children going to school up in Nametsi, I think as a local government we must think of a way of helping them, get syllabi, curriculum and qualified teachers,” says Ms Betty Khainza, the Bududa District Education Officer.
She says the government had reason to close Nametsi Primary School in 2010 and that the children who had been attending it were absorbed in other schools while others went with their parents to Kiryandongo.
She said although lack of classrooms and scholastic materials to aid learning greatly affect the learning and teaching process in Mt Elgon area, lack of parental interest in school is another serious challenge. Schools in Bududa have not performed well in national examinations over the recent years.
Access to schools is said to be one of the key inhibitors of good performance, with statistics from Bududa District and the district development plan for 2016 indicating that the district has 88.6 percent of all households located about 5km from a school.
“In particular young children between ages four and ten are affected by distance to school since they are less able to walk long distances, which is the problem now affecting the children in Nametsi since the nearest schools are about 5km away,” says District Chairman Watira.
With this observation in view, it appears the prospect of “classes” being conducted on earth-moving equipment and in open air seem poised to continue into the foreseeable future.