Heavy balls of rain lash down, their weight and intensity exaggerated by the tin roof under which we shelter. Looking out, the playground which minutes earlier had swarms of children playing in is now inches under water.
Godfrey, the headmaster of Royal Pride School looks out and predicts that it will “stop in 30 minutes”. I wonder to myself how he can know this, but chose not to question and stare out at the black brooding sky.
I begin to ask Godfrey about his school. He tells me that it is only eight years old and takes in about 280 children. Looking at the 8 small classrooms, 4 of which look under disrepair, it is hard to imagine that so many kids could fit into such an improbably small space.
Inside one of the small classrooms we are met by a swarm of children running and shouting, each waving their exercise books at me showing me their work. As I start to run out of unique adjectives to praise each child’s work, the teacher steps in and starts the process of trying to calm the children. It proves to be close to impossible while the ‘muzungu’ is still in the room so I follow my colleague out into the court yard leaving cries of “Muzungu muzungu” behind me.
Back in the headmaster’s office I ask what the biggest challenges are to the children’s education. Without hesitation, Godfrey responds, “The biggest challenge that these children face is not education, but finding the money for their education. It costs them 30,000 Ush [£7.30] a term. I want them to come for free, but I need to pay the teachers a small salary”.
Indeed, a small salary it is. Some of the teachers earn as little as 90,000 Ush (approximately £22) per month. Despite the small salary, all of the teachers look engaged and enthusiastic interacting with the children.
With no electricity all of the teaching is done with a blackboard at the front of the class. From the headmasters office I can just see one teacher writing, “My name is…” on the board while a hoard of youngsters eagerly copy.
For many children education of this description is nothing more than an aspiration. 18% of children don’t enrol into basic primary education. Of those that do attend, there is an average dropout rate of 66%.
I ask Godfrey about this high dropout rate and he tells me that one of the best ways to keep kids coming to school is to offer food. Twice a day at Royal Pride kids get a bowl of porridge as well as access to running water. This enough to keep them coming back, as Godfrey explained:
“Many of the children who come to the school don’t have the basics in their houses. They don’t have water, or food. We can give them that”.
Inevitably, teaching in this environment can be a challenge. The teachers have to think about basic sanitation as much as they do mathematics or English. I asked Godfrey if the teachers stayed at the school for long. He answered saying, “When a teacher comes to work here, we sit down together and discuss the types of children we have here. They have to know what kind of community we are in. We have to put aside our own time to go and visit each family at home”.
The more I talked to Godfrey the more I became inspired by the incredible work he was doing with these kids. The place struck me as much as a social project as it did a school.
I asked Godfrey what drove him to want to be a Head Teacher of a school. Godfrey is only 32 years old and I was curious as to what led him to Royal Pride.
With a wry smile, Basiime Godfrey looks out into the driving rain and says:
“This is a long story. I have no mother, I have no father. I was with an organisation”. He breaks off for a second to compose himself before continuing, “Sorry, when I speak about this, I feel like crying”.
Tears start to dwell up in his eyes and roll down his cheeks and I tell him that we don’t have to continue. He takes a step back and says, “Where I came from, it was a sad situation. I was living under a tree. Some people came to us and paid for [me to] go to school. This is all I want to do. I’m sorry…”.
I break off the interview at this point and let all the pieces drop into place around us. Godfrey turns away from me and wipes tears from his eyes. Water drips down onto some paper work through the tin roof as we stand in silence.
Godfrey is someone who has worked tirelessly for these kids because, as he had said to me earlier, “I know what it’s like for these kids”.
As I walk up the hill away from Royal Pride there is open sewage running down the hill to the valley bottom where the school is located. Kids who are not in school peer out at the white people walking in the rain and openly stare in amazement.
I stare back and raise a half smile. Only now does it dawn on me that the kids at that school are the lucky ones.