Although strong efforts have been made to increase educational attainment levels in Uganda, the lower secondary (S1-S4) completion rate for girls is only 24.9%. Reducing social issues such as child marriage and early childbearing, along with locating schools closer to children’s homes, help girls to complete their secondary education. The Boni Consilii Girls Vocational Secondary School in Mbarara is addressing these issues and helping hundreds of girls in the surrounding community to further their education and life skills, thanks to the efforts of a few Catholic sisters.
Sr. Mary Lilian Baitwakakye is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC), a religious congregation based in Mbarara, Uganda and an alumna of the Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI). Through the SLDI program, Catholic nuns complete workshops in leadership and technology over a three-year period. In the directors’ track, Sr. Lillian learned grant writing skills, which she put to work after graduation in her role as development coordinator for her congregation.
With the skills she gained through SLDI, Sr. Lilian became a prolific and successful grant writer. A large portion of the funds she secured for her community were invested in improvements at Boni Consilii. Previously, there were not enough schools to serve children in the Mbarara area. With the grants Sr. Lilian secured, she was able to build classrooms, dormitories, latrines, showers, water tanks, an assembly hall, a dining hall, administration offices and a school laboratory at the school. She also secured funds to begin a dairy farm near the school, which helps support the school and congregation.
Bon Consilii was just the start of Sr. Lilian’s grant writing success. She has since since founded the HIV/AIDS Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Project, also in Uganda, which focuses on providing educational opportunities to orphaned children with HIV/AIDS. Sr. Lilian has been able to raise grant funding to cover school tuition for many of the orphans and provided support to over 700 orphans.
Boni Consilii is now run by Headmistress Sr. Lucia Nyamwija, OLGC, a current student in SLDI’s Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program, which provides access to undergraduate and master’s level education to Catholic women religious in Africa. Some students at Boni Consilii cannot pay tuition, so Sr. Lucia takes extra time to tutor at-risk girls and keep them in school. She’s also improved the school’s water access by acquiring funding for a water tank and a rainwater collection system.
Boni Consilii provides a strong focus on holistic education and development to over 600 girls, the majority of which now complete secondary school. Not only do students learn core subjects such as science and art, but they also learn practical skills such as soap-making, use of natural pesticides and other life skills.
The education Srs. Lilian and Lucia gained through ASEC programs has been magnified to educate hundreds more young girls in rural Uganda. By providing basic needs and services, these sisters have also provided knowledge and opportunity to reach well beyond what was previously possible.