As a soldier in the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces, Sgt Paul Richard Muhumuza used to see soldiers’ children living with HIV/Aids and he would be forced to try and take care of them in any way he could.
So when he retired in 2005, and decided to start a new life in Katete Ward Nyamitanga Division Mbarara Municipality, it is no wonder that he was drawn to looking out for orphaned children especially those living with HIV/Aids.
Muhumuza was born on December 27, 1976 to Paul Katuramu and Enid Sanyu and had seven siblings. His entire family has since assed away due to various causes but he soldiers on.
When Muhumuza settled in Katete in 2005, he noticed that there were very many children of school going age loitering around without attending school. This prompted him to inquire as to why the children were not going to school.
“The first person I interacted with was Safina Lumumba who was born with HIV,” he recalls. He was moved by hers and other children’s stories of despair to start a school. Unfortunately, at the time, he did not have enough land to put up one. As part of his retirement plan, he had constructed 20 rooms for rent to act as a source of income to sustain his family. He took a bold step, turned the rentals into a school to help the needy, orphans and children living with HIV/Aids. “I called it Bright Future Primary School to help children living with HIV, needy children and other total orphans to study from baby class to Primary Seven,’’ he says.
Muhumuza started with only 100 children who were all studying free of charge. The number has since increased to 451. Raising that number has been a challenge because the children need special attention. To achieve this, he hired a doctor to always come to school to help.
"Most of the children stay with their parents, so what I do is to simply provide education,” Muhumuza says.
Muhumuza employs 15 teachers and two health workers to ensure that children are kept health and safe while at school.
“We have a clinical officer here and Dr Ronald Kamoga, a lecturer at Mbarara University of Science and Technology. They provide treatment and counselling services for the children,’’says Muhumuza.
Nicolas Ahimbisibwe, a clinical officer who has spent three years at the school is glad to be part of the team making a difference in these children’s lives.
“We normally give children medicine, treat them, they come for further investigations to test for their CD4 count and we also advise them on how they should protect themselves from other diseases such as malaria,” Ahimbisibwe says.
Muhumuza says children remind him and the other teachers when it is time to take their drugs.
“They are also fed on milk, bogoya, rice, matooke, posho, gnuts, beans, meat and fish every Sunday and this helps them to stay healthy," Muhumuza says.
The school currently has about 45 children who are known to be living with HIV/Aids but Muhumuza believes there are more than that. He says some parents are secretive and do not want to reveal their children’s status.
Muhumuza hopes this venture school can be a demonstration to other Ugandans that they too can help others in their localities in any way posible.
Since the opening of the school in 2009, more than 700 children have been educated at the school and some have gone ahead to advance their studies at institutions of higher learning.
“One of those children is Ruth Sabiti Nabasa who started her primary education at Muhumuza’s school and she is now in United States of America pursuing a degree in Medicine. Then there is Ismail Twijukye who scored aggregate seven in 2016 and is now going to sit his Senior Four examinations next year at Mbarara Secondary School," Muhumuza proudly reveals.
He says he does not have the capacity to follow up all the children but his goal still stays the same, to enable them complete primary school education. Muhumuza is grateful for friends who support the school through generous contributions of food and sometimes money to pay teachers.
Ahimbisibwe says the children are taught to encourage others who have not tested for HIV to do so .
Fruits of hard labour
Ahimbisibwe says he has so far taken care of 150 children living with HIV/Aids in the last three years and they are still receiving more children.
“We give them good care like good meals, washing for them and bathing them so that they look good and are healthy. We also teach their parents how they should care for their children,’’ Ahimbisibwe says.