Gayaza: 107 years of training Ladies

Monday June 4 2012

A section of students and teachers of Gayaza Girls School pose for a group photo on the steps of Parliament in 2007 during the Common Wealth Heads of Government meeting addressed by the Queen of England Elizabeth II.

A section of students and teachers of Gayaza Girls School pose for a group photo on the steps of Parliament in 2007 during the Common Wealth Heads of Government meeting addressed by the Queen of England Elizabeth II. Photo by Edgar R. Batte  

By Edgar R Batte

It might not make a lot of sense for you to know which fork is laid where on the dinner table but it does matter to ladies who have gone to school at Gayaza High School.
“Some schools might think that we make a lot of fuss over small things but for us it is not just about academics, “Victoria Serunkuuma Kisarale, herself an old girl of this 107 year old school, explains.

This is part of culture a student will learn and adapt to. “We have a culture that we revere. We care that a pink dress has a pink button, shoes being polished and living a clean compound. House work starts early, at 6:15am, and it is assigned at the beginning of the term,” Kisarale, Gayaza high School’s headmistress, adds.

For the time I spend at this high school I can tell this is a culture that is alive, where you’re no stranger but a potential friend and as such everyone greets you and tries to find out whether you’ve been attended to.

If you’ve gone through schools where teachers are treated with fear than respect, that’s not Gayaza. “We are a family. It might seemingly look a small thing but everybody cares for the other. When it is visitation day each of us will care to find out who was not visited so we will contribute for whoever didn’t get visitors,” Kisarale who is also known as simply ‘Kisa’, shares.

It is an involving culture. When a girl joins in Senior One (S.1) they get uniforms half sewn and it’s the student that completes the sewing. When Gayaza High School was begun in 1905 it was mainly to train the girl-child, particularly the daughters of chiefs of the Buganda Kingdom in among other skills those of a good wife. It would be understood since the land had been donated to the Church then by Kabaka Chwa II.

Even if the school’s population later took in even the lay people, the culture of teaching the girls how to become good mothers and citizens did not end with the chiefs’ daughters.
Still not everyone would find placement at Gayaza. It was the daughters of chiefs. Then, girls from rich families before a systematic criteria was created through which girls had to pass an oral and written examination in order to get into Gayaza.

But Gayaza’s story would be incomplete without a mention or several mentions of the contribution of the beloved Joan Cox, a lady who did not just do her job as a headmistress at ‘the school’ as the first girls’ only school came to be known, she was a teacher, friend and mother.
Her daughters, like she referred to her students, were tutored into motherhood even as teenagers. She taught them how to nurture children and take care of their homes. To inaugurate this tutorship which was out of Uganda’s conventional syllabus she introduced domestic science at the school.

This was a sort of club where every girl was given the responsibility of taking care of a baby for two weeks. At Gayaza this was called the nursery project where they changed nappies and fed babies from Sanyu Babies’ home.

Adalina Lubogo is one of students who were tutored by Cox and she recounts, “We did not know it at the time but she was teaching us skills which would come in handy when we became mothers.”
She set Gayaza apart and unique in the culture it instilled in her students thanks to Cox who was part of the Church Missionary Society of England that founded the school in 1905. Some of the buildings that were first constructed still stand strong and have been renovated and given a new look.

“Gayaza was started because the boys’ schools had started and there was need for equally educated wives,” Kisarale adds. Formjer Prime Minister, Professor Apollo Nsibambi noted in his speech at the launch of a book taking stock of 90 years of Gayaza High School, “We have for a long time believed that we could tell a Gayaza girl by the way she carried herself, if not by the way she conducted public affairs.”

At the event, in 1996 almost 17 years ago, Professor Nsibambi added, “Gayaza’s history is one of perseverance, especially through the earlier times, when even the very parents who should have welcomed the initiative for girls’ education might have doubted its benefits for their daughter,” he commented.

He adds that even for a ‘great school’, a headmistress once travelled through the districts (of Uganda) to interest girls in what it was offering to encourage them join. “Thanks to the commitment of the headmistresses: Miss Alfreda Allen, Miss Smythe, Miss Bolton, Miss Corby, Miss Cox, Miss Warren and Mrs Kavuma and their deputies. Long live the spirit of selfless service that is reflected in your older school motto, Banno,” the professor noted.

Gayaza later changed its motto to ‘Never Give Up’, perhaps to further encourage the girl child. Later girls at this high school made another history mark. “The music tradition dates back to times when the Luganda Hymn Book adopted items first translated at Gayaza, through girls writing of their own songs and compiling of the Gayaza Hymn Book,” Nsibambi added.

This is a legacy worth being proud of and besides the local old girls alumni the UK old girls began their own alumni network in November 1999. Ann Kajubi Gibwa was a student at Gayaza high School between 1971 and 1976. She shares some of her memories of this great girls’ school.
“I remember Gayaza for teachers such as Ms. Ksente and Ms. Biribonwa who believed in me and demonstrated that it is possible to be intelligent and a woman without apology. Then the many life-long friends I made and still have,” she recollected.

Ruth Kavuma, a daughter of a chief, had his father’s confidence. “My father was a very strict chief, whose stern hand was enforced by my mother…On my first day at Gayaza Junior School as a pupil in primary one he said one day I would be a teacher at Gayaza,” she recounted in one of her speeches.

She further recounts, “I believe this vision has been my inspiration. As a chief’s daughter my life in P.1-P.4 was fine. But reality hit soon after the 1966 crisis in Buganda Kingdom when life at home changed.” Even then there were the fun times for Kavuma who described herself as having been a talkative, friendly girl.

The ladies of Gayaza High School are not waiting to work in corporate companies, they are playing their part in social responsibility already. “We have a dress down day every year and each person who can contributes Shs2, 000 and the school council has to come up with a cause to which the money will go,” Kisarale explains.

Besides the good deeds, Gayaza is a sports giant too especially in cricket where they are giants and are an active Information and Communication Technology (ICT) school. “We are the only Microsoft Pathfinder School East and central Africa and one of 61 schools worldwide. We use ICT in every aspect of learning,” Kisarale an old girl that was at Gayaza between 1973 and 1976.
Above all Christian values are critical at Gayaza, a God-fearing community.