African Union launches s 

Monday, December 04, 2017 

The refugee school that trounces Ugandan Gov't Schools

Joseph Munyambanza Founder of COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA); and also a Mastercard Foundation Scholar stands with Kid of COBURWAS primary school in front of the first classroom building that he at the age 14 and colleagues built using their own labour, wood and mad in pursuit of providing quality education to their fellow Congolese refugees at kyangwali refugee settlement in Hoima Uganda

In Kyangwali refugee Camp in Hoima District, in Western Uganda, is COBURWAS Primary School, a refugee school that out performs government and other private schools in Uganda at the national exams (Uganda Primary School Leaving Examinations). The school whose students are mostly refugees from Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan but now living in Uganda as refugees, was set up by  Joseph Munyambanza born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and colleagues who fled to Uganda when they were still young (he was six). Joseph is a Mastarcard Scholar but at a tender age of just 14, he and colleagues never let the dream of having quality education not just for themselves but for their fellow young refugees fade away when they set up COBURWAS Primary School. East African Business Week’s Sam Okwakol caught up with him and here are the excerpts of how they did it.

You are a young Man, where do you get the drive to do wonderful things like this for your community?

So in the real sense I am not sure how old I am but estimate is that I am 27 years old and I think the biggest thing that encourages me is the need for work, the need to put children to school, the need to have a better future and for that need to happen, someone had to do something and that is why with colleges, with friends, we continue to see how we can make it happen, create the school, inspire our scholars to start schools, start small business that bring positive change in their families that  promises and gives them a better future. As you have seen, this is a very big community, we have over 40000 people in Kyangwali refugee settlement; the schools are very few here but also the quality is too bad and  because of that, many kids in this area do not perform well to be able to go to secondary school and so what we did, we created this school, what we call a model primary school so that we can produce children who can do very well in national exams but also who can inspire other children around  and we encourage them to be the best they can even when they go to secondary school and we continue to support them there and that is why even, we are working with organizations like Mastcard Foundation to see how they can supports us to support these children so they can have university education. So it is the need for change.

How did this Idea come about?

So, it first came in 2005, a group of young people coming together and we were in secondary school in Hoima and we realized that we were few who had gone to secondary school and then thousands of other children were stuck here in the refugee camp and when colleagues brought the idea that we can get together, we can work together and do something around education, I felt it was a great thing. Personally I had gone to primary school here, I had done my primary seven here in Uganda in the refugee camp here, so I got a first grade and because of that first grade I was able to get a scholarship to go and study from Hoima in a good school  so when we started these ideas I had a very good foundation that I had gotten from this broken system and so what I did was to bring tutoring programs in our youth programs and what we did was to bring children from upper primary, gather them, revise and prepare and with time the performance of children here really increased and that is what inspired us to create the secondary program so that we can enable them  to continue with their education. Later we set up this primary school. This primary school we built it ourselves with our hands using mad and wood, the community contributed iron sheets and then we selected key needy children from the community and those are the children we helped first as orphans and then with time, the school started growing slowly and some people in the community realized that the children we were helping here, were doing way much better than those in other schools around. So they requested to bring their children. At first, we were hesitant but later, we realized if we let the community people bring their children, then we can ask them to  contribute a bit, we could share the cost and that is what happened. Here you find that a certain percentage of children  are needy children and another percentage, their parents contribute some food and some money and that makes us more sustainable. That is how things have been happening.

What is your objective in doing this?

I think the biggest thing is to give people a stronger and better future which they themselves are creating. Most of the time, you realize that most refugees, you leave you home when you are feeding yourself, feeding your children but by the time you become a refugee for first two years you depend on others.  Father, mother and children you are depending on other people. And you know, it is a sad situation and sometimes when it takes you longer, there’s that mentality of dependence and there’s no way we can break that apart from creating this program, we set up a school, parents contribute and then children are prepared to get quality education and to be able to live for their own.  So we want to give people hope, confidence, skills and enable them live on their own and to contribute to the bigger society.

Who are the beneficiaries?  

Student can be categorized in terms of their need; we have those ones who are orphans, those ones who are coming from families which are really having many issues and then we have those whose parents are able to do something and those are the ones who do some contribution and then the rest we support them. At the same time we have pupils from different countries, we have Ugandans here, we have South Sudanese, we have Congolese here, we have Rwandese here, and we have students from Burundi.  So we have a diversity of children in terms of nationality and in terms of their needs.

You talked of you being able to access school yet a number of your colleagues could not, was it that the people inside the camp were not allowed to access government schools?

There are many reasons, for example the time I was in school, we had only two primary schools which were functioning and the population was high like today we have over 40000 people in the camp and about 60% are 18 and below.  So it is a young population and when you have only two schools overcrowded, teachers are  not really qualified because it is hard to find qualified teachers in this place, it is a far or hard to reach area and at the same time, schools don’t have resources and because of that, kids are not able to study. They are not motivated to study, remember when you are going to school, you have no breakfast, you have no lunch and there’s no chance that you are going to have dinner most of the time. So those factors make it hard for kids to go to school and I remember when I was in primary two, we were over 150 pupils in class with one teacher who was struggling to speak English but by the time I was in primary six, we were 17 children with only one girl, the rest had dropped out of school. So there are many factors. Schools were allowed to have people but children had many barriers that prevented them to come to class and to study. And by the time I went to a secondary school, we were less than five, so there are many factors, remember culturally, many people knew less about the importance of education and even then, if you got an education, there was a feeling that you would not get a job.  

How many children have gone through COBURWAS?

We started the school in 2009, the organization started in 2005, at first we trained students who were studying  in other school to help them transition to secondary school and this school started a little bit later because we realized that these schools were not doing the model that we wanted. While we still supported pupils from other schools, we wanted to set this school as a good example for them and in 2009 we started with a Kindergarten. So every year, we added a class. We started with 20 kids, we went to 40 kids at the moment we have 418, we had 433 but because of resettlement, a few kids left. We have had like two classes finish their primary here, so it is about 30 to 40 students who have finish here but we have supported a few students from the schools we started with in 2005 to go to secondary and every year we help about 100 students at that level and overtime, we have seen 700 students go through secondary school and the thing is that, at the refugee camp, we don’t have a proper functioning secondary school.   

How did you maneuver financial hurdles to set up COBURWAS Primary School?

Sometimes you don’t look at finance when you have a need. When you have a problem, you cry, you don’t consider other things and for that matter, when we started, we were all in secondary school and did not know these things of writing proposals, all we knew was that we had a problem and we realized for a long time, no was addressing it. UNHCR had been here for so long, there were many other organizations but they were struggling with many other problems and we realized that, there were many problems but then lack of quality education was the most dangerous for the young people because they have a long future. So what we did, we came together, and the first thing we did, we decided to go and work for farmers. We could gather about 150 of us, go to work on people’s farms and get some little money. We used this money to buy books for the needy children. By the way, even among the poor, there’s the poorest. But other resources we had, I had done well in primary school, so we volunteered to teach. I could also go to other schools to borrow chalk and we were given space in the existing school and we conducted our lessons there. We later decided to have our own structure when we got land from government and our first building; we built it ourselves using mad, wood and the community and churches contribute the iron sheets.

Finally the effort of a hardworking man does not go unnoticed, did you get any financial support finally from any organization?

Yes, I think that saying is true to us because we have been here for 12 years, and last month on 20th, October, 2017, it is when UNHCR and the governments of Uganda officially came here to celebrate us, they hosted a very big event here to acknowledge the achievements and the contribution we have had in the community, it is after 12 years that has taken our effort to be noticed , yet we are not yet  in any partnership with UNHCR, we don’t get any support from UNHCR but accepting us, we appreciate that. Then the OPM (Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda), has given us land, they have given us this land where the school is, they have also given us two other big pieces of land where we do farming and then this farming helps us to raise food for the school but sometimes also to get some extra to sell to increase on the income. We have had support from Global Fund for Children, they support small organizations that are growing, we have worked with them in capacity building, we have also Wellspring Advisor, they have helped us big way on secondary but also in upper primary. Then of course MasterCard Foundation  helps at university level.

How many of the students that you are helping have got a Mastercard Foundation scholarship?

It is about 30 students, I need to check properly, but it is about 30. Myself I am a Mastercard scholar. It is a big number and that is the biggest number we have had so far.  For a long time we have helped students go through secondary school but it was impossible for them to go to university because university education is expensive for anyone in Uganda, so it is too expensive for a refugee student to afford university education.  So with Mastercard, it is a very big relieve and many students are inspired to work hard.

Does Mastercard offer you a special package or your students compete with Ugandan nationals for the same slots offered by Mastercard to Uganda?

I think I can call it a special package because they recruit some of our students through the African leadership academy but also through their recruiting partners. They also look at your needs because sometimes when you are recruiting a refugee, you don’t just look at grades but you look at their potential because when you look at students who are recruited from here, sometimes they don’t have high grades but when they are put in the same university with students with high grades, they defeat them.  

How is COBURWAS primary school benefiting the locals/ host community?

The starting point is most of our teachers are Ugandans, so we create employment for them but even the children both in primary , secondary and even in the university some of them are Ugandans. You have seen while coming to the camp that the life standards are almost the same for both communities because we realized that there’re very many problems and we share the same challenges. We might have caused some discomfort for them because they used to hunt but our settlement here has removed animals but at the same time when we bring services here they get opportunities. At secondary school currently, we are helping 12 Ugandans, 50 at primary, 90 at nursery and about 5 at the university.

What is the change now since this school came to place?

Many things have changed and the biggest thing I think is the change of mindset of the people. If you see refugees like I said earlier, sometimes you feel so helpless, you feel you cannot do something big for yourself and even people who work with refugees have found that when someone works with refugees for long, they treat refugees like children, no respect, no what and what has happened is that, us creating this school, it beat all schools around. In Hoima district, we were among the best because our pupils get like six in four aggregates at primary leaving exams and then people see our school in the newspapers after the national exams, they get concerned and ask who is behind this? and they are told it is the refugees themselves.  This has given the refugees themselves confidence that our kids are doing it and then these other people, they realize that actually we need to engage these people as any other persons.  So we have become positive ambassadors for the community, we have created a good imaging but at the same time I do not how much more it would have been better for a child who is a refugee being helped by a fellow refugee, you know I feel so humbled when I go to Hoima,  pay school fees for 90 children to be in school, I feel humbled when we can pay their fees without going through bureaucracy. So there’s commitment from us, the children and  the parents are all motivated.       




By Samson okwakol, Monday, December 04th, 2017