Originally published August 13, 2013, written by Philip Matogo, volunteer teacher
In 2013, Kiguli Army primary school was attended by 687 students. These students come from diverse backgrounds, experience and lifestyle. Mostly, they are dependents or orphans of the Ugandan military fraternity. The school can be found on the hinterland closest to the shores of Lake Kyoga, Uganda. Lake Kyoga is a freshwater lake that supports several landing sites and fishing communities from which many a Kiguli student hails. Some of the children’s parents work in the Ministry of Defense ordnance factory called Luwero Industries Limited. The school has thus been made the centerpiece of the company’s corporate social responsibility plan due to filial as well as patriotic links. The school is also located in an area that is part of a re-forestation project being conducted by Luwero Industries.
The school is a primary school, not a military or boarding school. It is not grooming new soldiers. There is a premium placed on discipline, hard work and service to the wider community. These, we believe, are the three legs of the school’s ethical stool. From Primary One through Primary Seven, the students learn Social Studies, Mathematics, English and Science. No one is promoted until they accomplish the work required for the next level with a passing grade. These subjects are buttressed by extra-curricular activities such as football (soccer), volleyball and athletics. The school has won several district athletics accolades. It is currently poised to enter a district-wide football showpiece that will highlight the children’s unrivaled skills in this sport.
Academically the school has churned out the best students in Nakasongola district in Maths and English for several years on the hop. And this is good for the nation. Admittedly last year the school experienced a dip in such stellar academic achievement. This was due in part to the increased costs of living and falling standards of living in Uganda. Despite this decline in academic scores, the best student last year was given a bursary in a school near the national airport in Entebbe. He is currently topping his class. Sadly, the rump of Kiguli class of 2012 fell dangerously behind. These children teeter on the precipice overlooking the abyss daily and without this education, there isn’t much promise for their future. It is common for some to fall by the wayside and find themselves as fishermen whose moral dereliction leads to a large seraglio of women and zero prospects beyond living hand to mouth. That’s the boys. The girls end up pregnant as teenagers and faced with a life of poverty with little or no chance of improving their lot.
The school needs a break, too. It provides porridge as the sole meal to the kids but obviously such sustenance for a child (indeed anyone) is way off the mark. We could use help developing a more nutritional cafeteria program. The buildings of the school are in a state of disrepair. The parents, Luwero Industries, and other well wishers have put together some funds to repair and renovate the school. But this is a drop is a large ocean of need, especially in light the constricted operating budget; the teachers earn a pittance or volunteer. Yet, we have a strong sense of mission. And we have faith that initiatives such as this project will flip the floundering fortunes of this school and its glorious, inspiring students.
So, what can a poetry book do to combat such a mountain of obstacles? A lot. This project, The Songs of Kiguli, has given the children a belief in themselves. That’s why even though the majority of the 2012 class didn’t make the grade academically, they continued on to secondary schools of relative repute. This little poetry project is a major boost and helps fill our kids with the inspiration and the belief that if they can pen a published anthology, then they can repair their lives. Here are just a few of the little miracles our little book of poetry has sparked.
Ryan Masaba was a contributor to The Songs of Kiguli 2012. Although he was 3rd in a class of 56 pupils, his grades didn’t measure up on a national level. However, he was able to parlay his contribution to Songs of Kiguli 2012 into an acceptance at a top-drawer Kampala secondary school called Mengo Senior Secondary School. When the headmaster of that school took a look at the anthology he was impressed with this budding poet of Kiguli renown.
Kiguli Army School also attracted pen pals from Florida under the caring tutelage of Mrs. Katherine Rascoe. She was duly impressed by the words woven into a tapestry of poetry in the anthology. She and Philip Matogo developed a “poetry without borders” program as American and Ugandan kids shared poetry and experiences reflected through their own words. The anthology was the key that created an international relationship between the future leaders of both countries. Both student bodies could share their artistry in poetry at a level beyond the customs and waters that divided them, learning about the things they shared as well as those that made them different.
Songs of Kiguli also caught the eye of the then Uganda Chief of Defense Forces, four-star General Aronda Nyakairima. He is currently the Minister of Internal Affairs. He was flummoxed by the beauty, honesty and maturity of the Songs of Kiguli. He, at the time, thought that the writing was so good that it could not have come from rural kids deprived of the perquisites that benefit Kampala children. Another General that was impressed by the words conjured by our children was Brigadier-General James Mugira who is also the Managing Director of Luwero Industries Limited. He is a patron of the primary school and was totally taken aback by the children’s brilliance. Thus the army of Kiguli poets had enlisted two powerful generals to its cause.
The school indeed stands upon the cusp of monumental achievement. All these students need is a way to effectively express themselves and they will find the path to a stronger future. This is what this project will give them. Their poetry goes a long way to highlight their own circumstances and talent however it will also throw a spotlight on what ails the people of Uganda, and Africa as a whole. A people whose time has surely come. That moment in time will shine far beyond any 15 minutes of fame.