All I want is to go back to school, cries out 14-year-old

Timothy Okello (right) and his mother Christine Bogere at their home in Kamwokya, Kifumbira Zone in Kampala, ealier this week. Photo | Belinda Birungi. 

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. We bring you stories of how the pandemic affected learners; some of whom have never gone back to school. In this instalment of the series, Shattered Dreams, Timothy Okello shares his worry of not being able to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional mechanic.

Timothy Okello, a 14-year-old former student of St Theresa Nursery and Primary School, Masaka, wakes up each morning to help his mother take care of his baby siblings.

He, however, would prefer to be at school like everyone else but he can’t. Until March 2020, Okello was a pupil in Primary Four and his dream to become a professional mechanic didn’t seem such a farfetched idea.

Okello’s studies were not always consistent. He studied in intervals as he occasionally missed full school terms but there was always hope that he would go back the next term. His father, with the help of his grandmother, paid his school fees.

“I had put the children in a school I could afford, which was about Shs30,000 a term. But his father, together with his mother [Okello’s grandmother] asked that they take him to a school in Masaka,” Okello’s mother Christine Bogere, says.

Thus Okello was taken to reside with his grandmother in Masaka and was able to attend school while both his father and grandmother could afford it.

Then Covid-19 happened and along with it came the lockdown. As it happened with many families, money for school fees was hard to come by, and so the two, after the long school break, said they couldn’t manage to pay fees anymore because they were not working and, therefore, couldn’t shoulder the responsibility.

“They returned him after the lockdown was lifted. But at this point, I don’t earn enough to take him to school,” Ms Bogere, who stays in Kamwokya, Kifumbira Zone in Kampala, explains.

Okello says he obviously would love to go back to school if he got school fees or a sponsorship.  He knows that not going to school any more makes his dream of becoming a professional mechanic that much harder to achieve, and this leaves him feeling sad.

“Of course I don’t feel good about not being able to go to school,” Okello says. He is, however, aware of the situation with his mother and also aware that he can’t do much about it.

“I would love to go to school but I know my mother currently has no money,” he says.

His mother also worries that the years are going by and he is quickly transitioning from the age of being in primary school.

Ms Bogere, a single mother of five, is a cleaner at a place she identifies as “Family Doctor”.  She continues to painfully watch three of her school-going age children stay home, as she lacks the financial capability to take them back to school, while other children study.

“I earn Shs100,000 per month, just enough to pay rent and buy a few supplies. I would have to dodge [paying] the landlord for three months to afford just the school fees without other requirements,” she says.

Ms Bogere has faced a rather difficult time in raising her children. She had six children but earlier in the year, lost an eight-year-old to a health condition that she has never really received a diagnosis for.

Currently, her 12-year-old, Moses Okello, suffers from the same condition. Moses is physically and mentally impaired.

“His bones just break, he doesn’t eat, can’t speak and has shrunk to a toddler size. Worsening the situation is the fact that doctors have failed to diagnose Moses’ condition. He is a special needs child in need of special finances,” she says.

Her dream is just to see her children get the chance she missed to study and get up to the university level.

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