Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My new mantra, don't let them see you cry

 Where to begin. Today was a bit emotional – more so than I would have expected. I didn’t embarrass myself, or worse, embarrass my co-worker or CCA, but I have to admit I got a little choked up and I was in a bit of awe with the story we were told and the member we met.  

We finished our two day coaching session with Koboko United SACCO this morning and keeping to the schedule CCA has established we finished our visit with a site visit to one of the SACCO clients so we could learn first-hand how members are benefitting from an avenue to establish savings accounts and access to much needed capital.

Today’s visit was just like the last; we were introduced to an entrepreneurial businessman who saw an opportunity and has used loans from the SACCO to buy equipment and material to start a business and through this, he’s improved his circumstances and those of his family and the community – but that’s where the similarities ended. For his story was much different than the last.

But first some background. I haven’t done much research but I’m sure a Google search or an inquiry to Wikipedia would reveal that this area was carved up fairly arbitrarily by the colonial powers of the time, France, Belgium and England, which ended up with The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan (and now South Sudan) and Uganda. The problem with an arbitrary demarcation on a map is it often has little to do with local ethnicity, familial ties or even natural boundaries. And so it is here. The border between Uganda and Sudan and the DRC is spoken of often but the reality is it’s a fairly abstract concept to the local inhabitants. People come and go as they please, families live on both sides of all three borders and both SACCO’s we dealt with have members in all three countries. And it’s within this context that we met David.

And I’m going to apologize in advance for what seems like informality but the Ugandan custom is to introduce yourself by your usual given name and so I don’t have David’s actual family name so that I can now show the proper respect that I’d like.

David is the owner, chief administrator and driving force behind the Eden Primary School, a private school offering education services in Koboko to students from 3 – 13 years old which includes kindergarten to P-7, the equivalent to our grade 7.

 David is a local Ugandan but when he was a young child his father was killed in the Ugandan civil war and he became the head of his household. At the time it was only natural for him to take on the mantle of responsibility and take him, his two very young, younger brothers and his mother, and move the entire family to Sudan and set up new roots. In Sudan he took on the role of head of the household and being extremely bright himself and a task master when it came to education, he completed his schooling and insisted both of his brothers do the same.

All three brothers completed their primary and secondary educations and David was doing so well he was poised to commence his university training as a doctor when fighting broke out again, except this time in Sudan and once again David and his family had to flee, this time back to their ancestral home, Uganda. And it’s here the story really takes off.

In 2003 David moved his family and all their possessions back to Koboko and he eventually became a founding member of Koboko United Savings and Credit Cooperative. David had to give up his dream of becoming a doctor but not his commitment to education so he acquired a Batchelor’s degree in education, obtained a teaching certificate and in 2008 he formed the private primary school, Eden Primary School. I also have to mention he just completed his Master’s degree and both his brothers have bachelors degree’s, with his brother Paul also teaching in the school.  

Public school is free in Uganda but it is underfunded and ill-equipped to deal with the demands put upon it. It’s not uncommon to see public school class sizes of 200 students and the quality of education isn’t anywhere near high enough to prepare students for continuing education. It’s because of this that private schools are so popular and it’s this market niche that Eden Primary school is looking to fill. And make no mistake. David is a businessman and Eden Primary School is a for-profit enterprise, just like any thriving business back at home. But just like our credit unions and the SACCO’s, profit isn’t the issue, it’s what you do with those profits that makes a difference and what sets you apart; and what a difference Eden Primary School is making!

The school started off small, just 300 students, but in 2013 they finished the year with more than 800 students! And they’re on track for more than 1,000 in the very near future. They’ve already acquired a large plot of land to develop a secondary school for their now graduating primary students and they have big plans, very big plans, for the future. But just like credit unions, a major part of their business plan is centred on giving back to their community. The school may be for-profit but it finds the time and resources to offer free tuition to over 150 students each year. These include orphans whose parents have been killed in the conflict in Sudan, the gifted children of poor farmers that can’t afford to send their children to a private school and the children of clergy working in their communities with very limited means. And free tuition often includes free board because the school hosts more than 100 students on a full time basis, offering them a safe haven and a structured home life they would never otherwise have.

We met the staff and toured the facilities and the moment that struck me the most was when we were introduced to the “gifted” new grade 7 class preparing for the new year’s classes. Apparently the school year doesn’t actually start until February and their teacher apologized to us because they weren’t yet in their school uniforms. Because you see, technically it’s illegal to start early so the students had to “sneak” into class and can’t put on their uniforms until classes officially start next week.

These students are gifted alright, but in ways they can never imagine.

Signing off in Urua Uganda and feeling oh so humble and just a little overwhelmed.

When you look at the pictures please understand the school is in the midst of last minute preparation for the student’s arrival next week. What looks undone will be ready and waiting for a mad rush of young people when school commences

New desks under construction

A school poster

The school playground

A list of teaching and non-teaching staff

Words some of our students would be good to learn

David, my inspiration!

Some of the teaching staff preparing for the new school year

The "gifted" students sneaking in to start class early

The new classroom being built with money from a loan from the SACCO

Our new friends! 

Final preparations on the dormitories

The school staff



  1. Wow, your story took me right back to Koboko Dale. I must share your blog coordinates with the participants of CCA's 2012 Study Mission to Uganda. Travel safe and keep the stories and photos coming!