To Africa With Love

It is a far cry from Monmouthshire to the banks of the Upper Nile in Uganda, but a close link was created when in 2002, the Parish Councils of Penallt and Trellech heard of the plight of a girls’ school in the Nebbi Diocese of the Anglican Church in Uganda – and offered help. The then Bishop of Nebbi ,Henry Orombi, had explained his concern that the future of the Ogenda High School for Girls in his diocese was in danger. Founded in 1998 by the church as a fee-paying secondary school, income sufficient to pay teachers’ salaries regularly could no long be guaranteed. The Uganda government of the time provided no education for girls beyond primary school, so the problem was to find a new dependable source of income. With the closure of the school threatened, support was offered by the two parishes in the form of a five-year commitment of £6,000 per annum to fund teachers’ salaries and administration. The school agreed to provide accounts and progress reports and the first payment was made to the school in September 2002.

There was no doubt that the need justified the commitment. The first parish visit to the school in 2004 found about 60 students and 12 teachers working in two long, mud-walled, corrugated iron roofed buildings with no windows or doors. Other buildings were open to the weather under thatched roofs. Total furniture was a desk and a chair. The school stands near the banks of the Nile on ground given by the tribal chief after whose grandfather the school is named. The usual academic subjects were being taught, including chemistry, physics and biology, with agriculture and commerce added. The teachers were specialists, their diploma level being A level equivalents. The Head and Deputy were studying for degrees by correspondence. The academic standards were reasonable and enthusiasm for both teaching and learning was a notable characteristic of the school. The pupils included a number of boys keen to learn. Ages in classes varied because students were often dependent on whether they could be released from tilling the land and whether fees could be found. Some girls returned after marrying and a class could include girls and boys from eleven years old and young mothers with babies at the breast.

The first of four parish visits to Nebbi saw the development of understanding and support between the two parishes and the governors, staff, parents and students. The five-year undertaking saw the number of students double (but needing to grow to about 200), the provision of desks, chairs and text books, the building of a hall and a brick-built laboratory with equipment on its way.

The school’s land was registered and some began producing cash crops. The school was also registered to take the Ugandan National Education Board external examinations, there being every prospect that the Government of Uganda would adopt the school.

A few eye-brows were raised when it was known that the two parishes (as they were then) had undertaken to raise £6,000 a year for five years, over and above normal parish income. But successful fund-raising ‘for Nebbi’ was not lacking. These included local guided walks at £1 per head – plus another £1 for a dog, monthly coffee mornings, personal money boxes for loose change and links with a student or teacher as a pen-friend with a donation. A series of talks to churches and others spread the word beyond parish boundaries and gained generous support in donations or commitments to regular giving as in the parishes.

The formal five-year commitment duly ran its course, but with personal links established between the two communities, it was not possible to imagine anything other than continuation of support in one form or another. To complete the school’s development plan since 2004 there needed to be further building to provide dormitories, staff houses, a library and brick replacements for the original mud-walled buildings. So it was decided to keep the ‘Nebbi Fund’ open so that links between the Upper Nile and the Lower Wye could remain firm and fruitful.

(We are indebted for facts and figures to Nick Taylor, a leading proponent of the Nebbi initiative.)

[from: Penallt Revisited]