How Kagadi school for orphans is excelling at PLE

One of the families that are helped by the organization. PHOTO/GABRIEL BUULE.

What you need to know:

  • During the lockdown, many children were exposed to being exploited and early marriages. It was important to get teachers to these pupils and one school in Kagadi knew that. 

A small school in Kagadi that offers free education to orphans, school dropouts and other destitute children is making waves after all its candidates passed the 2022 Primary Living Examinations (PLE) with flying colours. Maisha kindergarten and Primary school had 22 candidates in the 2022 Primary 7 class. While one child missed sitting for his exams, 13 passed in first grade and eight in second. 

The performance is a massive improvement from the 2021 PLE results (the school’s first ever PLE) where the school had 15 candidates with only one pupil passing in first grade and the rest in second. 

The school’s director, Milly Nasolo says that the secret to great performance is to have pupils well prepared and confident. 

“We don’t just focus on pumping the children with knowledge; we tell them that they have unlimited potential. We inculcate in them the confidence that they are good enough no matter the background. We make sure they all know that it is in them to excel as well as anyone. We make them know that they can compete with children in the best schools in the country,” says Nasolo. 

Covid-19 lockdown 
One of the reasons children at the school excelled in because the directors decided to do what other schools were not doing during the lockdown. They knew that their pupils were prone to early marriages and child labour due to the fact that they come from parentless homes harshly affected by poverty. So they followed the children in their homes as much as their meagre finances could let them in order to keep them engaged in school work.

“Part of the reason why children from poor backgrounds go astray is if they feel that there is no hope. They will go get employment or get married or engage in dangerous sexual behaviors mostly because of lack of hope,” she says.

So the school procured educational materials and sent their teachers to as many homes as possible to teach the children. 

“The teachers would leave materials with the children with strict instructions on how to go about them. The teachers would then go back to mark their work and give them more work as soon as possible. This helped our 2022 candidates as much as it did our previous ones,” Nasolo says.

Small school with Big Vision
Maisha kindergarten and Primary school is a small school, with a total enrolment of just 372 pupils. It is located in Kyenzige sub-county, some 7 kilometres east of Kagadi town. 

Kagadi, if not the poorest, is one of the poorest districts in Uganda with very low literacy levels. 
The school was started by one of the sons of the soil, who wanted to help his community come out of poverty through education. Robert Kikomeko Tumusabe was born and raised here.  He witnessed and experienced the poverty growing up but unlike most of his childhood friends, he had been lucky to be sent to school by good Samaritans. 

When he finished school and found himself in a better place, he decided to go back home and find a way of taking as many of the community’s children to school. So he started an organization, Maisha Holistic Africa Foundation, which eventually built the school in 2014. 
Tumusabe runs the school and the organization with his wife Nassolo. 

It is the organization that finds the funds to pay for 70% of the entire school enrolment through charity. The other 30% of the pupils come from homes where the parents or guardians pay a fraction of the school requirements (20%) while only 10% of the children come from homes that pay the full amount of school fees and all the other costs. 

How enrolment works
The school tries as much as possible to secure enrolment positions for the orphans and the needy. To be allowed in, the child has to be found to have no other choice. It could either be a school dropout that has no one to take them back to school, a teenage mother that have been abandoned by family, orphans or destitute. 

“Many times we turn away people willing to pay for their children’s education because our focus is helping those children that don’t have the luxury of going to another school,” Nasolo says.

So guardians of orphans are given priority over everybody else. People like widows or poor peasants are also given a listening ear. After hearing each case, the organization investigates to prove that they are not being duped. Once they find that the child is truly needy, then the child is allowed into the school. 

Preping the candidates for national exam
Maisha Primary School takes preparing their pupils for the national examination very seriously. Nasolo says that for village children like hers to be able to compete at a national stage, they have to be placed on the same starting line as those children from good backgrounds, attending excellent school. 

“We engage in much training, constantly telling these kids that they can excel. They usually think that they can’t because of their backgrounds. We constantly tell them they have potential. But most importantly, we get them lots of high-quality materials from good schools,” she says.

The school has a total of 25 staff members, 14 of those being teachers. Teachers are constantly trained to improve their skills for the benefit of the students. 

“We also constantly train our teachers on cutting edge methods of teaching. We pay teachers from excellent schools to come and train our teachers. We have realised that most of the problems in village schools stem from language; a lack of knowledge of English on the part of the teachers is a huge problem,” Nasolo says. 

Mark Kikomeko
One of the stars of the school is Mark Kimomeko having scored aggregate 8. His father came to the school some four years ago and begged them to take him in. All his children were school dropouts because of lack of means but he was not ready to have the same fate befall this particular one. 

“He told us that his only chance for a bright future as an old man was for Mark to be educated. He told us that he saw something in this particular boy. He said that he could see that the boy loved to read even when he wasn’t in school,” Nasolo says. 

Kikomeko had dropped out of a UPE school at Primary four level. But even while he was home, he was constantly studying, drawing, reading and trying to get educated on his own. So when the school had his story, they allowed him in. That was 2019. But in early 2020, as he was starting primary five, schools were closed to prevent the spread of covid-19. 

“During the pandemic, when we sent teachers to the homes to keep them up to date with school, we realised that Kikomeko’s initiative was impressive. He covered so much that when he came back to school in 2021, we made him skip P5. As you can see, he has excelled,” Nasolo says.

Liz Kasemire
This is another star. She dropped out a government school at P5 and a friend of her father referred the father to the school and asked if they could help. 

“We investigated the case and realised that she needed help. She had been out of school for almost a year. Kasemire wanted to continue with school. It is highly likely she talked to this other man to push her father to us. She has scored 8,” says Nasolo. 

What next now? 
The best four in last year’s PLE will get full sponsorship in secondary school, just as is the case for the best four from 2021.  They are Kasemire Liz ( 14), Ahaisibwe Mercy (13), Mark Kikomeko  (13) and Kamuli Betty (14). 

“We keep in touch with all the children we send to secondary school. We visit, we counsel, we check the performance reports until senior 6,” she says. 

Those who won’t be able to raise the school fees for secondary school will be supported by the school in a different way. There is a running program where the organization teaches members of the community skills like farming, brick laying, tailoring, etc. Welding is in the pipeline as well. The program happens at the school and it is open for everyone that is interested. It has done so much in demonstrating to the guardians the value of education. 

“We shall enrol them in the program to acquire skills of rtheir choice as we look for funding opportunities to send them to secondary school. The program is licenced under the ministry of education and they assess the learners and give them certificates at the end of the training,” Nasolo says. 

Passing...New-found fame
With this news of excellent performance, it is easy to envisage a situation where many parents rush to the school to have their children enrolled here. However, Nasolo says that they are not fighting to get huge numbers. 

“We don’t have big facilities to have different streams and we don’t want to get loans to build more. We shall not allow to be overwhelmed. Most importantly, we don’t want privileged children to take the chance of the underprivileged,” she says.

Nasolo insists that it is possible for pupils from village schools to be as good as children great unban schools. 

“There is unlimited potential in all these kids. 70% of organizations helping kids are in urban centres. This is unfair. Village kids are smart, they just need someone to hold their hand and tell them that they can do it. But sadly, most government schools that are supposed to be there for them are pretend schools. They don’t care about the teachers and the pupils,” she says. 


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