Jennifer Burden, ONE Mom and blogger for World Moms Blog, explains how one school in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, became a model for schools in the developing world with the help of the NGO community.
I had the chance to visit the Railway Children Primary School in Kampala, Uganda, with a delegation of vaccine advocates with Shot@Life. With the help of funding from organizations like UNICEF, the school is a pure diamond in the rough and is making a true difference in the lives of many children – who by the way, have all been vaccinated thanks to UNICEF.
On first approach, a red dirt entry way welcomed us surrounded by the school’s buildings. The buildings were built of cinder blocks and tin roofs with metal wire crossed in the open-air windows. Patches of flowers and vegetables planted by the children and teachers were outside each classroom, and painted rocks with important sanitation and HIV/AIDS messages were spotted among the gardens. At the back of the school were the bathrooms and a waterspout for hand washing that overlooked the Kampala skyline.
Olivia Muhumuza, the headmistress of Railway, gave our delegation a tour of the school. About 100 children sit in each classroom, and there is more than one teacher per class. The age range of the children varies in each classroom. Some children who started school early are in the later grades, and yet there are students who are older and just starting school in the lower grades.
As our delegation visited classroom to classroom, each gave a presentation they had prepared — a poem, a chant or a song. Most were about sanitation, a concept the teachers said that they taught for the health and safety of the children, and they stress that the children in return demonstrate the importance of sanitation to their families at home through skits.
We were inspired that Mrs. Muhumuza was able to put a stop to child pregnancy at her school through education alone. The girls learned to stay in groups after school and say no when approached by people, whom they often already knew, for sex. They learned that they had the right to say no, even if something as appealing as a new schoolbook or pencil was offered. The girls were also taught to fight for themselves and run if someone tried to have sex with them. And it is working.
After we met the classes, we were led to a large open-air building with a roof and a stage. The children put on a show for us with large drums, singing and dancing, as well as skits that they emphatically performed. The teachers served us bread baked by the girls, bottles of water and bananas. It was mentally so difficult to eat because we learned earlier that most of the children in the school only eat one meal a day – the one that the school provides – so we passed. This fact is often brought up with my daughters at home here in the US: one meal a day for a growing, active child. It is so not fair.
After the presentation, we were led into another room where the girls showed us their crafts that were for sale: gorgeous paper bead necklaces and bracelets, and a plethora of woven goods. The money that they make from the sale of these items goes towards uniforms for the children and the materials to make washable sanitary pads for the girls. Mrs. Muhumuzu stressed that providing disposable sanitary pads for all of the girls would be economically impossible, so she teaches them how to make their own, a skill that they take with them when they leave the school.
The trip to this particular school was a life changer, and I learned so much to fuel my advocacy in such a small window of time. As ONE.org cofounder, Bono, said in an interview, poverty is not fair. And after looking into the innocent eyes of the children at Railway Children Primary School in Uganda, I feel his message, too.
Not long after my trip, I took the children’s message to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., with Shot@Life. I wore my beads made by the Ugandan girls while advocating for the support of global aid and global vaccines for children around the world, including the children at Railway Children Primary School. When sat down in the offices of US Senators speaking of the importance of global aid, which is less than 1 percent of budgetary spending, I touched my beads and told their story. And this is just the beginning…