What you need to know:
- When the country announced lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of Covid-19, the most affected were school-going children, many of them staying home for close to two years. In this sixth installment of our continuing series, Shattered Dreams, we bring the story of a girl who quite school so that the brother could continue with studies.
Rabellah Niwenshaba, 17, would be in Senior One if things had gone according to plan. Knowing that she needed good grades to start secondary school, she struggled hard to attain good marks in the delayed 2020 Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE).
From the rural UPE Mujwa Primary School, she emerged among the best with aggregate 18. Her hopes were that she would join secondary school and at least be a nurse in future.
Hailing from Nyamutaba II Village, Butare Parish, Ntungamo Sub-county in Ntungamo District, Niwenshaba’s father Onesmus Tumuheirwe makes charcoal while her mother, Ms Jonah Niwasiima, tills people’s gardens as a casual labourer to put food on the table.
Niwenshaba says much of the payment for the school dues was provided by her mother.
“I was in the same class as my young brother, he scored 17 and I got 18. My brother Nuwagaba Advin chose to repeat P7 and wait for money to be available for secondary. I was asked to step out. There was no money to pay for both of us,” Niwenshaba said.
The eldest of seven children now works as a house maid in Ntungamo Town where her employer has promised to help her learn hair dressing.
“I wanted to be in secondary and I would go there even now if I had money but when I look around our home, even our relatives, there is nowhere we can get money. Maybe I will get a husband and he contributes to my family or work and he takes my siblings to school,” she says.
According to Niwenshaba, even her relatives’ children, including a son to her paternal aunt, Macknon Ankunda, 15, have failed to go to secondary school.
“I believe if it was not for Covid-19, maybe there would have been a way. It was like a curse. The way even we delayed to do exams, no one could believe,” she said.
Ms Niwasiima says when the lockdown was instituted, she and her husband stopped working.
“No one would allow you to work at their home because they feared you may be having Covid. To fend for the family, we even had to sell our three goats from which we thought we would get the first school fees for these children,” she said.
Niwenshaba had actually been admitted to the school of her choice after the results were out.
“My head master told me I was admitted at Bwongyera Girls SS. This was the school I wanted so much. All my life, I had wanted to study from there. Even if I get school fees now, I would go there, but I think there is no chance, only if someone comes to help me,” she said.
When asked what she needs to go back to school, she said: “I need a mattress, books and requirements to use at school. But the most stressing thing is school fees, which I feel my family cannot afford. My mother can buy me books and pens like she was doing, but also if you look at the shopping list that was on the admission, she cannot afford all.”
Niwenshaba now feels like her dreams of becoming a nurse should be shelved.
“Everyone who goes to primary school knows she will go to secondary and in the end do something, but what determines the end is money. If you are born like me where my parents are poor, you cannot force it.
“I am hopeful I will go to the salon and maybe that is where my future is. I don’t think I will return to school, but if a chance comes, then I will. I hope my brother who has remained will study and get to the point I wanted to be,” Niwenshaba said.
Ms Niwasiima said in the situation they are in, only someone who is kind enough can bail them out.
“We are told both girls and boys should go to school and finish, but for me if one has to drop, then I opt for a girl because for us women, we can have better chances outside school. We are not like men. This is why we chose the boy to continue. The challenge is that we don’t have school fees for both of them. I hear it is only those with Grade I who get aid and she did not get it.
“If someone can help me pay school fees, I would struggle and get other requirements. I cannot imagine my child being like me, not educated and married to an uneducated man. That is why I struggled to take her through primary. I have nothing else to sell to take her to secondary."
Mr Fred Bahati, the acting Ntungamo district education officer, said an estimated 14,945 pupils and students in the district, especially girls, never returned to school after the lockdown was lifted. At least 4,800 pupils and students became pregnant. Most of the teenage mothers never returned to school.