Big Dreams Give Kids A Chance To Learn

A rooster crows. A cantor chants the Muslim call to prayer. Songs from a Christian church echo through the village. Morning has come to Kyebando, Uganda.

Mothers wake children who quickly roll up their sleeping mats, dress for school, and begin their walk along rutted red dirt roads to the school compound. By 8:00 a.m., over 180 smiling faces are assembled to start their day at God is Good Preparatory School (GGPS), a non-denominational pre-and-primary school open to children of all faiths.

The story of GGPS began with the dream of a young Ugandan preschool teacher, the support of her husband, and her friendship with an American woman.

I met Judith Nsamba, co-founder and headmistress of GGPS, in 1998 at a preschool where she taught in the Nakalabye area of Kampala, the capitol of Uganda. As our friendship grew, she told me about her village and introduced me to her husband, Edward.

Five years later, Judith shared with me her dream of opening a preschool in Kyebando. At the time, the village had one small private primary school and a government primary school, but no preschool. She wanted to provide much-needed education for the young children of this subsistence-farming village. Having a passion for children and knowledge of education, I wanted to play a role in helping her achieve her vision.

I knew nothing about international business relationships, so spoke about my desire to my daughter and son-in-law, international workers in Uganda. They agreed that the friendship and trust I’d built with Judith and Edward served as a strong cultural foundation for making a mutual project successful.

Judith & Edward Nsamba

Over cups of steaming African tea, Judith, Edward and I developed a plan. They would build a school, hire a teacher, enroll village preschool children, and provide accurate records of how donated money was spent. I would recruit sponsors for the children and garner donations for materials and buildings. With great anticipation, we looked forward to success.

With the help of village builders, Judith and Edward erected a temporary building in 2004 with mud bricks, papyrus siding and a tin roof. An outside wall donned colorful pictures painted by Edward’s daughter. Judith developed a pre-academic and social program, and tirelessly worked to assemble and create teaching materials. Thirty children were enrolled. The preschool was born!

That same year, halfway around the world, Water and Stone Center, Inc., a 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation that a friend and I established in 1997 accepted the new God is Good Preparatory School as our international project. It fit nicely into our mission of promoting racial and civic harmony through education, the arts, and public programs. As people learned about the new school, interest ran high. They understood that all donations would be given to the school, and wanted to assist children’s education in a country where 49.9 percent of the population is under the age of 15, and only 32 percent complete primary (elementary) school.

Interestingly, also in 1997, Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, established the Universal Primary Education statute. Families were to receive free primary education for up to four children in the family, and all children through age 12 were to complete school. Progress toward achievement has been slow. Government schools may have as many as 100 children per teacher. Schools may not be within reasonable walking distance, and children are needed at home to assist with childcare and farming. Many children leave school by Primary 2 or 3, the equivalent of second or third grade.

Understanding the necessity for education, and having potential assistance, Judith and Edward expanded their dream. If a preschool could be successful, why not bring quality education to primary and middle grade students as well? And so they did, with the assistance of Water and Stone Center. In 2005 the first permanent building was erected, a primary class was established, and five students were sponsored.

With Judith and Edward’s unwavering focus on their vision, miraculous growth has transpired at GGPS. In 2007, the Ministry of Education registered it as a private school. Six licensed teachers, a nearly unheard of feat for a village school, educate children from preschool through Primary 7 – the completion of primary school. One hundred forty-two children are sponsored.

Campus development includes four classroom wings, a latrine, and two water cisterns (the first of their kind) in Kyebando. With the assistance of Good Earth Trust, a non-profit organization from Great Britain, GGPS personnel and village builders learned to make environmentally sustainable bricks. The last two classroom wings, the latrine, and the cisterns are built from these long-lasting blocks. Under ordinary circumstances in Uganda, such progress might take a decade or more, or never happen.

Until recently, young students walked 15 minutes down a steep path to the village water hole. They filled gerry cans with water and carried them back to school where the water was boiled before consumption. Now, the school’s cisterns collect rainwater through pipes leading from the roofs of the buildings. Children or staff drain the water into buckets and pour it through a simple sand filter. “Now that our children don’t miss class to fetch water, and now that they are regularly hydrated, they are paying attention and learning better,” said Judith.

With foresight and good resource management, the personnel have added to the school’s sustainability. Donations from sponsors and others allowed them to purchase two pieces of equipment used toward this purpose. An ISSB (interlocking stabilized soil block) machine, a hand-maneuvered press that is used to make the sustainable bricks for the school, is also rented out to builders in the village. A boda boda  (motorbike taxi) generates enough income to provide one hot meal a day for the teachers and to pay the hired driver. Any excess funds are put into a savings account so that one day the school can buy a second boda boda without assistance from Water and Stone.

At the end of 2009 and 2010, the school’s first two classes of Primary 7 children took the national exams to qualify them for secondary school. All passed. Most are the first in their family to complete primary school, and some graduates have continued their education.

When people risk dreaming, share those dreams with others, and take the steps necessary for their achievement, great things happen. The early vision of a young Ugandan teacher now gives children the opportunity to learn and achieve dreams of their own.

Carolyn Warnemuende
About Carolyn Warnemuende

Author Carolyn Warnemuende has two daughters and five grandchildren, and lives with her husband in Redding. She writes parenting and educational articles, sponsors a school in Uganda, and visits Africa twice a year. She receives great joy in taking daily care of her four-year-old granddaughter who was adopted from Ethiopia.

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