Pains of Covid: Birikawali quit school after aunt was laid off

Alice Ruth Birikawali at her aunt’s home in Namugongo, Kira Municipality, Wakiso District. PHOTOS | IVAN SENABULYA

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 seventh installment of our continuing series, Shattered Dreams, we bring stories of two girls who dropped out of school after their guardians failed to raise school fees. The girls are traumatised whenever they see other children attend school.

On a Monday afternoon, I visited the home of Ms Cissy Nakamya in Namugongo, Kira Municipality in Wakiso District to interact with one of the children under her care.

This was after I received information that an 11-year-old girl had dropped out of school.

As I sat in their rented single room, I waited for half an hour for Alice Ruth Birikawali to come back from the garden where she had accompanied a neighbour, who sometimes offers food freely to the family.

Birikawali narrated her story with a sad face the entire time.

“My name is Alice Ruth Birikawali, aged 11. I am a former pupil at Jepro Community School in Kyaliwajjala, Namugongo. I was in Primary Five before the lockdown happened in 2020, but when schools reopened early this year, I failed to go back because my aunt failed to raise my school fees. We used to pay Shs300,000, for day-scholars.

“My long-held dream was to become a doctor and treat people, but this seems to have been shattered. I have been staying with my aunt in Namugongo since I was in Primary Two, after she picked me from our home in Mayuge District. My father Richard Babita was doing charcoal burning for a living, but fell off a tree and suffered a permanent disability on his leg.

“My mother was left with the responsibility of fending for the family and is hired to dig in people’s gardens where she is given some money and sometimes food.

“My aunt had supported me from Primary Two, but failed after my Primary Five, due to financial challenges. She is now jobless. She does laundry for some people in the village from which she raises some money to feed us. I also spend the day redundant, sometimes I go with her to help wash clothes in people’s homes. I feel bad and hopeless every time I see myself home, while others are going to school.”

No fees

Ms Nakamya also shared that it has been difficult to send her niece back to school.

“I am a single mother struggling to look after my niece because her father is not working. I have managed to educate her since her Primary Two class. I was working somewhere before Covid-19 came, but was laid off. I am now doing casual work in the community.

“The little money I get from washing can only buy food, I cannot take children to school. I used to pay over half a million shillings as school fees, but I can no longer afford that given my meagre income. I have tried to look for another job, but I have failed to secure one, the current situation has not only affected Ruth, but even other children under my care.

“I thought about taking Ruth back to Mayuge, but there is little hope in the village because my brother is also being helped by the wife who runs some small business. I now appeal to Good Samaritans to come to Ruth’s rescue and help her go back to school. 

“I could take her to a public school under free universal education, but still, such schools also ask for some money which I don’t have. The cheapest public school, requires more than Shs100,000, which we cannot also afford.”

Fatherless, her dream of being a lawyer is no more

Fourteen-year-old Shanita Nabatanzi, who lost her father at a tender age, now lives with her aunt Ms Harriet Nabbosa, 45, a woman who has been struggling to see her get educated.

Shanita Nabatanzi cooks food with her son Kasoma Douglas at a restaurant in Namugongo, Kira Municipality, Wakiso District at the weekend. Nabatanzi helps out her aunt at the same restaurant.

Unfortunately, when schools reopened on January 10, the single mother was unable to take her son Douglas Kasoma and Nabatanzi back to school as the lockdown had battered her restaurant business.

The three live in Namugongo, Kira Municipality, Wakiso District. Seated at her aunt’s restaurant where she helps out, Nabatanzi shared her story.

“My name is Shanita Nabatanzi and I am a former student at St Peters’  Senior Secondary School in Jinja District. I was in Senior Two before Covid-19 struck the country. The school used to give us half bursary. I was offered half bursary, part of the school’s programme to support the well-performing learners in the community who come from financially struggling families. I would pay Shs300,000 as fees, but my aunt cannot raise this money now.

“Apart from the school fees, more money is still needed for other requirements. My dream was to study hard and become a lawyer, but all this hangs in the balance. I really don’t know what the future holds for me. When all efforts failed to return to school, I left Jinja and came here to join my aunt. I spend most of my time at the restaurant helping her with cooking and distributing food to customers.

“When I get some time to rest, the school memories come back and I cry. My little brother (Kasoma) was in Primary Seven in 2020. He was lucky to sit for his Primary Leaving Examinations, but he cannot join secondary school because there is no money. He has since been taken back to the village because he had become unruly.

“I appeal to anyone who can support us to do so and help us return to school.”

Aunt’s response

Ms Nabbosa says it is difficult to get money now.

“It is true both Shanita and Douglas want to study, but we are still struggling to get school fees. Douglas is my son, but the girl is my niece who I took care of following the death of my brother. I am operating a restaurant, but we no longer get more money as we used to in the past; the business is slow and everything we need for daily life is expensive. This is why I have even failed to raise money to take those children back to school.

“I spend most of the time with Shanita here, helping me with some chores, but I was forced to take Douglas back to the village to live with my aging mother. I realised that he was redundant and was getting into bad groups.

“Shanita is an orphan, her father died when she was so young and it has been me taking care of her. Initially, I was sending financial support to her in the village, but I decided to bring her here because her grandmother had become too old and weak and I realised she could not manage such a teenage girl. Here, I can closely monitor her and she has proved she can be a good girl. But now she needs to go back to school. Anyone willing to help her resume her studies will be most welcome.”

Drop-out rate

A report by the National Planning Authority compiled in August 2021 and released in January indicated that 30 percent (4.5 million) of an estimated 15 million learners in the country would drop out of school, stifling literacy levels.

The Situation of, and Impact of Covid-19 on School going Girls and Young Women in Uganda report by United Nations Children’s Fund also indicates that between March 2020 and June 2021, there was a 22.5 percent increase in pregnancy among girls aged 10 to 24 seeking first antenatal care from 80,653 to 98,810. 


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