The New Forests Company is planning to continue planting and harvesting on its plantations for the foreseeable future. While education is essential for empowering communities to develop themselves, it is also an economic investment for NFC who will benefit from the improved capacity of local labour, contractors and other operations service providers. To date, of all the project areas, NFC has invested the largest amount in education.
The reason for this is twofold, NFC’s belief in the importance of education for development and the wide gaps in the current situation on the ground, particularly in Uganda. When Universal Primary Education (UPE) was introduced in Uganda in 1997, millions of children who previously could not afford primary education were suddenly given the opportunity at a very low cost. Therefore, the 2.7 million children in 8,000 schools in 1996 jumped to over 7 million (almost 3 times the pupils) in 13,300 (less than twice the number of schools) schools by 2003 (Literacy Practices in Primary Schools in Uganda, Muwanga, et. al., 2007). Unfortunately, public education funding has not been able to keep up with this massive expansion which has put a major strain on all aspects of the public education system from infrastructure to supply of qualified teachers to teaching and learning resources. This has resulted in very serious quality sacrifices. For example, in 2002, a study revealed that of the 361,150 students who successfully completed primary school, only 13% were adequately literate in English (Muwanga, et.al.).
Construction of Primary School Double Classroom Blocks
Not very many NGOs in Uganda engage in infrastructure activities, so due to the great need, NFC took this up as one of its main projects. It is not uncommon to see over one hundred children sharing a classroom in the local schools or learning under a tree when there are no classrooms at all.
NFC has invested in six classroom blocks so far in Uganda at Kikandwa Umea Primary School, Ddalamba Primary School, and St. Noa Buswa Primary School , and Bweyongedde Primary School (all bordering Namwasa Plantation), and Nsavu Primary School and Makoma Primary School bordering Kirinya Plantation.
NFC assesses which schools have the highest student: classroom ratios and targets those schools. The schools are then offered the opportunity to participate in the partnership if they are willing to mobilize the local materials as their contribution – the sand, bricks, aggregate and some unskilled labour. NFC provides the remaining supplies including iron sheets for the roofs, paint and cement.
NFC just completed its first teacher accommodation block with space to house between 4 and 8 teachers. Around Luwunga Plantation in Uganda, the infrastructure of the classrooms are fairly adequate and the need identified by the communities to improve the quality of education at the schools was teacher accommodation. Often teachers who are posted to rural schools stay far away from the schools, then take a long time to get their every day, increasing teacher and thus student absenteeism and tardiness. If the teachers have adequate accommodation within the school grounds, the teachers have more incentive to come on time and if they do not, the community can hold the teachers accountable. Once this block is up and running, NFC will monitor it to see the results and impact on the school to see if this model can work in other areas.
When NFC first arrived in Uganda, it developed a partnership with the Alinyikira Primary School. Their most pressing need was some way to produce worksheets for exams and preps that the students could mark on and they asked for support for a manual duplicating machine which NFC provided for them. They later told NFC that this was the most beneficial contribution that the school has received. Therefore, NFC decided to provide one for Umea Primary School and Forest High School near Namwasa Plantation as well which they are now using to print their own exams as well as those of surrounding schools.
NFC also supported the pilot project of The Learning Paper Organization’s implementation of The Learning Paper, an innovative teaching and learning tool that looked like a news paper, designed with the teachers of the surrounding schools and educational experts in the UK, half in English and half in the local language. Unfortunately, it has not yet been able to secure funding past the initial pilot phase.
NFC is currently doing theoretical and field research to find out what other cost-effective educational resources would most improve the quality of education offered at the local schools without creating a recurring cost dependency on NFC.
New Hope Day Care Centre
In Uganda there are over 2.5 million orphans, over 1 million of which are AIDS orphans. This is a tragic figure with a population of just under 30 million people. Unfortunately, Uganda simply does not have the social services or infrastructure to deal with this awful situation, which, if not dealt with effectively, could cause major social problems for future generations. In order to support orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) around its Namwasa plantation, NFC assisted a community based organization to construct a day care centre facility which has now turned into a pre-primary education centre for OVCs. Akiki Constance was a labourer who approached NFC’s community development officer in 2006 about the ten AIDS orphans she was caring for out of her small mud dwelling. She said there were many other children in the area who were in similarly tough situations and wanted to see if there was any way NFC could support her project. She submitted a proposal for the construction of a day care centre. The community provided the local material’s with NFC providing all other materials and the New Hope Day Care Centre was opened in August of 2006. It now provides support for 80 – 120 OVCs on a daily basis, including pre-schooling educational support, nutrition and general supervision and care.
Forest High School Kikandwa
When the New Forests Company conducted its first participatory rural appraisal around Namwasa Plantation in Uganda, one of the most urgent needs that came up was improving the access to secondary school, especially for girls. Many girls would finish primary school and despite good marks, if their family could not afford to send them to boarding school, they would often be married off or take up work in the sex trade to earn income for their families. NFC decided to figure out how to bring a secondary school to this area and managed to do so in partnership with a registered British Charity, Promoting Equality in African Schools (PEAS) who specialize in setting up and managing affordable, quality secondary schools in Uganda. PEAS and NFC split the capital costs for building the school and all the running costs are sustainably funded by low fees from the pupils.
Forest High School Kikandwa was officially opened in January 2008 by guest of honour, British artist, Ms. Tracey Emin who generously funded the construction of the Tracey Emin Library at the high school which now has 14 computers in it as well as numerous books and a wonderful creative reading room. The school has over 230 pupils and continues to grow.
NFC saw this project as a particularly strong success and a great way to incentivise children to stay in the primary schools which NFC supports. We are currently looking for another co-funding partner to build another high school where it is desperately needed next to our plantation in Eastern Uganda.