A group of well wishers with support from individuals, companies and organizations have donated life jackets and a motor boat to Bwama Primary School in a bid to safeguard the lives of the learners there.
The donations are a result of a campaign launched following numerous stories in the media including the BBC on the plight of the island school and the risk that pupils endure to get education.
Bwama Primary School is situated on one of the islands in the middle of Lake Bunyonyi in Kabale district. Since the school has no boarding section, the pupils have to use wooden boats to cross the second deepest lake in Africa two times a day.
But as if this is not risky enough, they cross the lake without life jackets amidst threats like storms and capsizing. Due to these same reasons, the pupils are often late for classes, and sometimes leave school early when the weather conditions begin to appear life threatening.
In other cases, parents are forced to have their children abscond from school for fear of what dangers could befall them on the deep waters. All this inevitably has negative implications on the academic performance of the pupils and their competitiveness with other schools.
On Saturday, a group of volunteers delivered 150 life jackets, a motor engine boat and other scholastic materials including 50 school bags, 2 wall clocks to the school authorities. This brings the total of the life jackets donated since the beginning of the campaign to 244.
For now, the campaign has raised enough life jackets for the entire pupil population of 208 that Bwama Primary School has.
Brian Ahimbisibwe, the Assistant Coordinator of the ‘Uganda for Bunyonyi Kids’ initiative told SoftPower News on Sunday that the group intends to raise more 256 more jackets to make them 500 and 2 more motor boats by July 2018.
“We launched the drive on July 8. We used a door to door approach and social media to raise funds drive. At the launch, we gave the school 20 life jackets, then later 120 more and yesterday we delivered 150 more jackets,” Ahimbisibwe said.
He explained that “when it rains, the kids don’t go to school and if they are already at school, they can’t return home because it is risky travelling by boat”.
As a result, the young children find solace at the school headteacher’s home until the weather normalizes. Unfortunately, this puts a strain on the headteacher’s resources including food.
“The response was good, different individuals and companies supported us. Some proposed that we build a boarding facility at the school but instead of taking on such an ambitious project, we thought it wise to begin with what’s manageable,” Ahimbisibwe told SoftPower News.
He believes that the support will improve the school’s enrolment, the retention and attendance of pupils, as well as the academic performance in general.
Some of the organizations that supported the ‘Uganda for Bunyonyi Kids’ campaign include Hariss International (Riham), Uganda Development Bank Ltd, Global Livingston Institute, Entutsi Resort, Brisa Holdings Ltd, SoftPower Communications LLC, Voice of Kigezi and Bunyonyi Overland Resort.
The young learners could be seen beaming with smiles as they wore their newly acquired life jackets.
The other school on the island is Bwama Secondary School but unlike the Primary, it has accommodation facilities and the students are relatively mature.
In reaction to the donations, Johnson Byambara, the headteacher Bwama Primary School expressed optimism that the school will now perform impressively.
“We shall be moving safely and I think the enrollment will increase because there are no more risks. I am sure every learner will have a life jacket,” the headteacher told SoftPower News in a telephone interview on Sunday.
He said the pupils will be in position to manage time better since the school now owns its own motor boat. The boat operator will be ferrying the pupils every morning and evening.
“In a recent meeting with parents, we decided that every child will be paying Shs 2,000 every term for maintaining the boat,” Byambara said.
He, however, noted that the school is still faced with some challenges including poor buildings and lunch provision for the learners.
“Many children come to school without lunch. While some few pack food, but others carry nothing and just roam around until afternoon lessons begin,” he told this website.
Some threats could still be eminent for the young children at Bwama Primary School as they endeavor to chat a path for their future aspirations, but for now, they can sail their way to school and home with some hope of survival.