Introductory Letter

The Story of St James Nursery /Primary School and Orphan Care

Cheadle Heath Primary School’s Twin School, Nakakabala, UGANDA

 

My names is Mrs Gerry Hambridge and I have been spending time as a volunteer in Uganda since 2002, originally living and working at Maria’s Care Children’s Home and the attached school, and for the past five years I have been helping to establish a new primary school in the village of Nakakabala in Kamuli District. I have known James the Head Teacher, for many years as his daughter Moureen was one of the first teachers I worked with in Uganda and she and her family have become great friends of mine. Her father James had been living and working away from his village since his wife Joy died in 2001 as he was devastated by her death. In 2008 after Moureen’s wedding which my family and I attended, he decided it was the right time to return to his home and on doing so found that many of the children in his village of Nakakabala were still not getting an education as the nearest government school was a long walk from their homes. Knowing the importance of an education, James decided to set up his own school, St James Nursery/Primary School and Orphan Care, at James’ home.

Over the five years since it opened the school, set up in very basic classrooms with few facilities, it has attracted a gradual flow of children to attend lessons and now has 410 children between the ages of 4 and 14, on the register as well as thirty orphans living on the premises who would otherwise have no stable home. After a bit of persuasion from James that an education was a good idea for their children, the villagers of Nakakabala have supported the school and helped its growth in many ways, though all the families are very poor. The school is now registered with the authorities and has regular inspections.

The school is surrounded by fertile swampland that James farms with the help of the older children and which provides food crops to enable James to feed the orphans and give every child attending the school a cooked meal, possibly the only meal they get some days!

Through my personal fund-raising and support from my family, friends and many other people including help from Cheadle Heath Primary School, St James has been provided with some desks, benches, books, teaching aids, footballs, latrines, beds and mosquito nets for the orphans and one brick built ‘resource centre’ which serves as the Library, the Head Teachers Office, the Staff Room and where the educational equipment can be kept safe from the weather! This room is also where I sleep when I stay at St James! Goat, pig and chicken projects have also been established so that when the animals produce young they can be sold to raise money for the school making it more and more self-sufficient which is our ultimate aim. Already several offspring of the goats purchased five years ago, have been exchanged for six cows! James explained to me that owning cows is the equivalent of having money in the bank! The cows are fattened up and in an emergency can be sold to raise money. The poultry are also bred for selling on and the eggs they produce provide regular protein for the orphans with any surplus eggs being sold or exchanged for some of the many necessities such as food and medical treatment for the children.

One of my biggest challenges was to raise enough money to install solar lighting into the school, and I was thrilled to be able to fund the installation of the solar in January 2011. This was very important as the oldest children in Primary 7, aged 12-14 sit for their Primary Leavers Certificate, their first national exams each October, a very important time for them and their school, as they will both be judged on the results. In Uganda it is very common for these children to have lessons before and after school and to do lots of personal study to achieve the best results. They were unable to do this at St James, as there was no electricity in the area and therefore no lighting for lessons or reading books. Being on the equator the sun goes down at 7.00 every day so studying in the evening is out of the question. The Ugandan government has started to provide secondary education in some areas so the children want to attain good results from their primary schools before they have a chance of moving on. Now that they have lighting the children can gain maximum benefit from their education. This facility will not only be good for the school but also enable the local people to use the buildings for community meetings.

With the wonderful support I received I also purchased beds and mosquito nets for those orphans at St James who had no where comfortable to sleep, and mosquito nets for all the children who attend the school. My ambition is to eventually provide every young child and expectant mum in the area with a mosquito net as Malaria is still by far the biggest killer of these two groups in Uganda and Nakakabala is near swampland that provides an ideal breeding ground for the mosquito! Many parents in Uganda don’t name their children until they reach the age of 5 because many of them die of Malaria! A gift of one mosquito net often protects several children, sometimes even a whole family as they share a bed or sleeping mat. Therefore protecting many from sickness and undoubtedly saving many lives! The more nets the more children are saved from this terrible disease. With every ones help I purchased three hundred nets and personally delivered over a hundred of them during my stay in January 2011.

I am proud that I and my supporters, have provided the school with the material assistance but the success of the school mostly comes down to the dedication of James and his staff and the hard work and enthusiasm of the children who know the value of the education they have been offered at St James. They will not waste the opportunity to get good grades in what are their Primary Leaving Exams, coming away with the ‘P7 Slip’ – a very valued document.

The next challenge is to provide permanent brick classrooms for the children, as the temporary ones are open to the elements that I have personally witnessed several times when I have been teaching! At the moment the classrooms are divided by low walls of rough wood, with open sides offering no protection from the wind, rain and massive storms they have during the rainy season.  Everyone can hear and see what is going on in the other classes that must make teaching and concentration very difficult. Also none of the teaching aids we have given the school can be put up on the walls.

One way of providing both the good quality classrooms for the children and earning money for the school is to build a block of four classrooms where the central dividing wall would open up to create a large hall. The hall when complete will be registered as a National Examination Centre so that the children can sit their Primary Leaving Exams there, as at the moment Mr James has to find the funds to transport the children to an examination centre some distance away. Also as there are no facilities like this in the area it could be hired out for weddings, council meetings, etc. all of which would raise much needed funds.

So once again Cheadle Heath and others have risen to the challenge to help build the classroom block and last year we started the building by laying solid foundations and the walls up to window level. Earlier this year the money from your fund raising has been put towards the completion of the classrooms so that the children at St James can have a safe and comfortable environment in which to learn, just as the children at Cheadle Heath and other UK schools do. Our next challenge will be to finance the building of the inner walls, and to buy doors and windows. There is still a long way to go but this was a wonderful start to what will be a fantastic asset to the school and community.

I enjoy my visits to Cheadle Heath especially when some of the children greet me with ‘Jambo Madam Gerry’ which is how I am greeted in Uganda, and many stop to ask me questions about Uganda. Even at such a young age, it never ceases to amaze me how much they care about their Ugandan friends and they have enjoyed exchanging messages on Hands of Friendship with them. They are really interested in hearing my stories and seeing the video footage of the friends they are helping at St James. The children at Cheadle Heath know how lucky they are to have such a beautiful school and really want to improve the learning environment of the children I work with in Uganda.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about St James and that you will support one or more of the many challenges that lie ahead to create a good, caring and academically successful school. Their needs are many but I am sure that over the next few years we can help to improve their lives even more. Together with the hard work of James, his staff and the local people, I know we will make a big difference.

Please note that I am not a charity but just an individual working to make the lives of some children in Uganda a little better. I would be going out to Uganda to work at St James even if I did not have donations for the school but any money I do raise, and I have been very lucky with the support I am receiving, I take out to Uganda personally, decide along with James and his staff what is needed and then make sure it goes to where it is supposed to go! There is no ‘middle man’ and I do not deduct anything for my expenses. It is my holiday each year!

Thank you for reading this and in anticipation of your support while your children are at Cheadle Heath Primary School. I’m sure your children will enjoy learning about their new friends, sharing and communicating with them through letters, songs and video footage.

Gerry Hambridge