Education is no weight to carry - Helping to educate vulnerable children in Uganda

The History

BAO was established in 1991 by Bury resident Betsy Keating. During a visit to Uganda in the early 90’s Betsy was shocked by the number of children she met who had lost their parents and were homeless. Therefore when she returned to Bury, Betsy began raising money in her local community (hence the name Bury African Outreach!) to help raise funds for these vulnerable children. To date BAO has helped more than 300 children to get a good education and provide essential medical care. These children have gone on to gain jobs such as Teachers, Nurses, Hotel Managers and Priests.

Links with Uganda

What makes BAO unique is its relationship with the Nuns who help look after the children in Uganda. These nuns provide us with a trusted source in Uganda to manage the funds sent to them.

Sr Theresa Abigaba (pictured below) is our key contact in Uganda. Her drive and passion for helping Uganda’s most vulnerable children is making a huge difference to children’s lives in this region, and we are delighted to be able to help support her to do this.

One of them told us, "It is a wonderful thing you (BAO) are doing in these children’s lives. It changes their destiny. What they will be able to achieve is due to your generous love.”

The Charity Today

In 2012 the charity founder (Betsy Keating) and her fellow Trustees (Derek Roe, Pauline Roe and Hugh Spink) made the difficult decision to ‘hand over the reins’ after 20 years of managing BAO.

Having visited Uganda themselves in 2010 and seen first hand the incredible work done by BAO; husband and wife team Tom and Lydia offered to take over the ongoing management of the charity. Alongside them Phil and Rebecca Lay have joined the team and make up the remaining trustees/committee members.

Like the previous trustees before them, this new team all work voluntarily and do not take any money from the charity in wages, expenses or travel.

“We jumped at the opportunity to take over the running of BAO. We visited the children in 2010 and saw the great work being done and how the money is significantly changing the lives of these children.” Tom (Secretary)

“The children are incredible, a true inspiration. I will never forget my time with them. Taking over the running of BAO means that we can ensure that they now all get the childhood and education that we all take for granted in the UK.” Lydia (Chair Person)

“The great thing about BAO is that it doesn’t spend excessive amounts on things like advertising, salaries and offices etc. As a trained accountant I hope that my skills will help us to maximise the amount of money we can send to Uganda.” Phil (Treasurer)

Tom and Lydia returned to Uganda in 2013 to evaluate progress and establish links with a Stockport-based charity ‘Helping Uganda Schools’ (HUGs); with their support BAO now has links with the Good Shepherd Special School (in Western Uganda) and has established partnerships between this school and schools in Bury.

Schooling in Uganda

The schooling system in Uganda is very complex!

Many people ask does the Ugandan Government provide free schooling. The answer to this is ‘Yes!’ However it’s not that straight forward…

Government Run Schools

Free education is only available for children up to the age of 10 and the quality of the education provided is very poor.

State schools are rare to find and incredibly oversubscribed. Often the government run schools are very crowded with over 100 students in one classroom. Occasionally, a class may not have a teacher at all. In rural areas, some schools may be meeting under a tree. These schools provide very little (if any) facilities such as school books and stationary.

Something as simple as a pencil with a rubber on the end is seen as a luxury item! For children with special educational needs, these schools do not provide an environment where they are supported to be able to learn.

Privately Managed Schools

The majority of the schools in Uganda are what you might call ‘private.’ Mention the words ‘Private School’ in the UK and you may think of something reminiscent of Hogwarts reserved only for the most wealthy and privileged.

It is not like this in Uganda!

Private schools in Uganda are still very basic. Classrooms rarely have electricity and look more like a garage or scout hut than somewhere you would expect a lesson to held.

However the smaller class sizes (approx 30-50 students per class) provides a much improved level of education. Furthermore these schools provide basic food at lunch time for the children. This means that they are more likely to be able to concentrate in class. Again however, these schools do not cater for children with any kind of disability or special educational needs.

The Good Shepherd Special School

Good Shepherd Special Needs School is a Non-Profit Organization owned by the Daughters’ of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, locally known as Banyatereza Sisters. The need for a school for children with special needs in Fort Portal, Western Uganda was first mooted by Sr. Theresa Abigaba some years ago based on her experience as a teacher in mainstream primary education. She noted that accessing the Curriculum remained difficult for children with disabilities, particularly those with learning difficulties, due to large class sizes and limited expertise.

The original intention of starting a special school was to have children complete the Primary cycle and continue to Secondary level, which has been achieved because of Individual, special attention provided to these children. Many have managed to score high grades at the end of Primary school and continue into Secondary schooling. Another aim of the school is to raise these children’s status and value in their community – often special needs children in Uganda are abused, neglected or abandoned because they are seen as a ‘curse’ or worthless to society. More to this, the school’s aim is to build respect, responsibility among young children who have special needs for human rights; so that they feel they are worthy human beings with dignity and become useful Citizens with a future. Foster their long term self-sufficiency, and to protect them from exploitation and child abuse of every kind.

Categories of disabilities we have in the school:

Intellectual impairment
Speech and hearing impairment
Physical disabilities
Partial Visual impairment
Speech and language communication problems
Down Sydrome
Medical problems such as AIDS/HIV and Eplilepsy
Behaviour disorders/hyperactive

You can read the fantastic story of the Good Shepherd School in the book ‘Improving Chances’ by Pat Scampion available on Amazon.

Going to the University

Going to university is the ‘dream’ for all children in Uganda as it is seen as a major step towards being able to get a good job upon qualification.

In order to get a place at University then the student will have to pass a notoriously difficult exam in their final school year. If they are lucky then they will be offered a place. However the fees are expensive by Ugandan standards and often it’s just not financially possible to send children to university.

BAO has helped a number of children through university over the last 10 years. We hope to be able to continue supporting children to achieve their dreams.

Getting a job

Our dream for every child is that they get sufficient education/skills to improve their quality of life and support themselves. Some of the children with special educational needs will not have the capacity to study to degree level; despite this BAO is focused on children getting the skills needed to make a life for themselves. BAO supports children to gain practical skills, enabling children to learn sewing, craft making and carpentry skills so that they are able to earn a living for themselves.