Shattered dreams: Abigaba makes chapattis to save for his school fees

Julius Abigaba makes chapatti at a stall in Waseko town, Buliisa District. PHOTO/ANDREW MUGATI

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 14th installment of our continuing series, Shattered Dreams, we bring you the story of Julius Abigaba, who resorted to chapatti business because his guardians could no longer pay his school fees. 

As his peers rise up early to go to school, 18-year-old Julius Abigaba heads to a makeshift stall in Katanga suburb, Wanseko town, Buliisa District, to make chapattis.

It is almost a year since he started the business after failing to continue with studies at Uganda Martyr’s Comprehensive Secondary School Annex Wanseko in Buliisa.

The Senior One drop-out has now missed two school terms since the reopening of education institutions following the lifting of the lockdown. 

Before the closure of schools, Abigaba’s mother, uncle, and grandmother paid Shs300,000 for his fees per term, but they can now hardly afford it.

“I dropped out of school in the first term of Senior One because of lack of school fees. My mother, grandmother, and uncle could not afford to pay the Shs300,000,” he says.

Abigaba decided to search for a job after spending a lot of time at home. Fortunately, he was hired to make chapattis, where he is paid only Shs3,000 daily.   “My job is to make chapatti. When I am done, I start vending them around Buliisa town. This business is not paying me well because I am paid Shs3,000 daily, but I have nothing to do. I have hope that if I raise more, I will go back to school,” the 18-year-old says.

“My father spends his money on alcohol. It is my mother who has been sending me some money, but she is not able to now. My grandmother and uncle can no longer help me since they also have other children to look after,” Abigaba  says.

Before joining secondary school, the 18-year-old used to sell pancakes to raise fees for his primary education, which he says was manageable then. 

Abigaba says he is ready and willing to return to school if he gets an opportunity. 
“I don’t feel fine when I see other students coming back from school, sometimes I hide from them and I start crying,” he says.

The little that Abigaba makes is spent on buying some necessities at home.
“I don’t make much savings because I am the sole breadwinner and I don’t know if I will save more money, I currently have Shs80,000. I am not sure if I will keep it for long,” he says.

Abigaba stays with his grandmother and father after his mother left about 11 years ago. 
His uncle, Mr Nicholas Matayo, says when the school term started, he failed to raise the fees because he was overwhelmed by other responsibilities.

“Together with his mother, we have been helping him to pay school fees before lockdown but this time, it became hard for me to get money. His mother has also stopped sending him money,” Mr Matayo says.

“I do a small job as a bicycle mechanic where I get peanuts, he is a bright student but there is no money for his fees,” he adds.

Abigaba’s dream is to become a doctor and help his siblings finish school. 

Children resort to labour 

In May last year, Human Rights Watch  released  a report that showed a rise in exploitative and dangerous practices against children working to support their families during the Covid-19 pandemic. The report dubbed: “I Must Work to Eat: Covid-19, Poverty, and Child labour in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda” examined the rise in child labour and poverty during the pandemic, and its impact on children’s rights. In all of these countries, parents were unable to fend for their families after their workplaces were shut down to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. With schools also closed, it was left to children to support their families. In Uganda, 32 children between the ages of nine and 16 worked at gold mines, stone quarries, fisheries, in agriculture, in construction, and selling items on the street.

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