Ngora- At the foot of a rocky hill located south east of Ngora Cathedral is one of the oldest educational institutions in Teso that for many years has been the academic icon of the region.
Ngora High School, established by Anglican missionaries, will be celebrating 100 years of existence in July. The school located about 18kms from Kumi Town on the Kumi—Serere Road, has been an academic centre of excellence, drawing many students from several parts of the country.
However, in the past decade, Ngora High School has been struggling to regain its past glory: The dormitories are dilapidated, the roofs rotting, windows for most buildings broken and the staff quarters are inadequate.
The school administrators and old students have been left to find solace in reminiscing “the old good days”.
The passage of time and the insurgency that crept in the region; Teso Insurgency (1986 to 1993) and the incursion of the Lords Resistance Army (2001-2003) combined to erode the school’s prominence.
“We are just picking up from the rubble of war,” the head teacher, Mr Martin Okiria says. Adding: “The school has been the pillar of education in Teso and most of the intellectuals the region has produced have passed through Ngora High School,”
Founded in 1914 under Church of Uganda, the school was meant to nurture morally upright professionals, a vision it has continued to pursue amidst a number of challenges. The impetus for the staff and students has been engrained in the motto; “Discipline and Hard work”.
History has it that the school catered for the eight counties of Teso; Serere, Amuria, Kaberamaido, Soroti, Ngora, Kumi, Bukedea and Usuk. Each of these counties, some of which have now been upgraded to district status, competed to send its best pupils to join the school.
In the period preceding 1986, the school used to appear among the best performing public secondary schools in the country. It would pass an average 45 students in first grade out of 60 candidates at Ordinary Level, with about 80 per cent often making it to university.
However, during the 1987-1991 Teso insurgency when residents took arms to fight government, the school lost most of its best teachers who were forced to flee the insecurity to seek opportunities in other parts of the country.
“The insecurity pushed the school so many years back in its academic track and it is now struggling to regain its past glory,” Mr. Okiria said
The school begun with one big block, two dormitory buildings which had to be smeared with cow dung, to make up for the floor that had not been cemented.
“Students used to eat from the verandah of the school block. The three classes (junior one to junior three), the staff room and assembly hall were all housed in that same block,” Mr George William Ojamuge, a retired geologist and old student of the school, recalls.
Mr Ojamuge, who joined the school in 1952, said the school was quite dynamic and had many developmental activities such as agriculture, scouting, sports, clubs, book binding and societies.
The school had expansive gardens and students would grow their own foods like; sweet potatoes, cassava and groundnuts.
In 1952, Ngora High School scouts were among those drawn from other parts of the country to take part in the coronation scout camp at Kaazi along Lake Victoria to mark the coronation of Elizabeth, the Queen of England.
The school was also invited to participate at the official opening of the Owen Falls Dam in Jinja District in 1954. During the festivities Ngora High scouts were asked to put up huts for other children who had been called to witness the function. Queen Elizabeth of England presided over the commissioning.
In commemoration of the coronation, one of the teachers then, a Catholic priest, composed a song and one of the stanzas went thus; “Roll up your sleeves and get scouting. We shall beautify the scene with a smile that is bright and clean.”
“It has since become out tradition. To roll up our sleeves with a bright smile and in all our academic pursuits,” the deputy head teacher, Mr Michael Okipi, said.
Veteran politician, pioneer member of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and former minister in the Obote regime Silvanus Isiagi said the school inspired many youth from the region into becoming responsible leaders.
“I am convinced that the spirit at Ngora High School does not only cater for the student’s academic wellbeing but also civility of all those who pass through it. It can prepare future leaders to be able to go with desirable knowledge, skills and attitude,” Mr Isiagi said.
High profile old students include; Adoko Nekyon --- the former intelligence chief in President Milton Obote’s government, Education minister Jessica Alupo, former deputy Prime Minister in the NRM regime, Paul Orono Etyang and Uganda’s envoy to Tanzania, Ms Dorothy Hyuha.
Others include State minister for Defence JeJe Odongo, former minister for the Presidency Beatrice Wabudeya, State minister for Tourism Agnes Akiror and Ngora Woman MP Jacqueline Amongin.
These were variously housed in the school’s pioneer dormitories that include; Maraka, Esunget, Kitching, Syson, Mandela, Odiit, Carl Craft and Agwelakwap houses.
And for its turbulent past and uncertain future, the centenary celebrations would only mark a memorable homecoming for its old students and a day to rewrite its history.