The Covid Crisis and the Humanist Schools in Uganda
One of our regular donations is to the Uganda Humanists Schools Trust (UHST). Steve and Hilary Hurd, from the Trust, have emailed supporters with an update on the situation in the country and the effect of Covid:
Covid has hit schools in Uganda very hard.
The virus was brought into Uganda with a plane load of passengers from Dubai in mid-March. Most of those passengers were quarantined and the country went into lock-down. All schools were instructed to close before the first term ended in March, with the expectation that they would reopen in May. Covid has been slow to take off in Uganda, with just over 1,000 cases to date and no deaths but, nevertheless, the Uganda government has taken a precautionary approach. School closures were extended and the President has now asked them to prepare to reopen in September. The students have already lost a full term’s schooling.
Normally the collective scholarship payments from UHST supporters cover 50% of the running costs of Mustard Seed School and about 40% at Isaac Newton School. During the shutdown, the schools lost their local fee income, but they still have ongoing costs, for water and electricity, local and national rates and taxes and, most importantly, staff salaries. They receive no funds from the Uganda government.
The Humanist schools have worked hard to retain staff during the lockdown. The schools have always tried to foster a strong team spirit among staff, teachers and ancillary workers. Reliable pay, fringe benefits and annual staff bonuses paid by UHST have been an important part of this. In order to support their staff during the closure, schools have been paying 50% of normal salaries. This has only been possible because UHST has continued to transfer your regular monthly scholarship payments. Although there have been no children in school, this money has helped to ensure that the children have a school to return to.
The one compensation is that the school closure has enabled UHST to help the schools to make progress in a number of areas:
1. We have completed the nursery and infant sections of a new Humanist primary school at Katumba, Bundibugyo, on the Congo border, where 100 fathers were killed in a futile witchdoctor-led insurrection.
2. Work is well advanced on the foundations of a new hall at Isaac Newton School
3. A much needed second boys’ dormitory at Mustard Seed School is progressing.
4. We have registered, as a not-for-profit company, the Humanist primary and secondary school at Kanungu, near Bwindi, the site of a dreadful massacre of 800 people by religious fanatics.
Current expectations are that children will return to school in September, after an extended summer holiday. The government is proposing to run the final term up to the end of December, to give students an opportunity to catch up on the substantial amount of work they have missed. National examinations, if they are held, will move back from October to the end of December.
Covid has caused huge problems for everyone in Uganda, and especially for school staff and, more particularly, for children and students. They could not have managed without the money from UHST supporters, which has given them an essential lifeline during the Covid crisis. They are hugely grateful to UHST supporters for the help you have given them in these unprecedented times.
The virus has curtailed economic activity in Uganda and destroyed the livelihoods of many poor families. When the schools reopen, children not receiving UHST scholarships will find it difficult to pay fees. This, in turn, will make it hard for the schools to pay their teachers. Our priority, at UHST, is to harness funds to help our schools to not only survive the current financial shock but also to re-establish the momentum they had before the crisis hit. We can only do this with your continued support, for which we are immensely grateful.