The typical school day of a student at St. Matia Mulumba Kiganda Roman Catholic Primary School may not sound all that different than any other school. Over 750 students ranging from nursery to primary school age attend the day school, which is located on five acres of land in the Kiyinda Mityana Diocese in Central Uganda.
A Day in the Life of a St. Matia Student
Some students start their day with remedial lessons as early as 6 a.m. Those who have to travel further by foot to school may arrive later and miss remedial lessons, but most arrive in time for prayers at 8:20 and the regular school day start at 8:30.
Lessons continue throughout the day with breaks for lunch and tea and end at 3:20. At that point, students engage in extracurricular activities like gardening, music, dance, drama, games and sports until the end of the day at 5:00.
There's about 25 teachers at the school. The majority live in staff quarters on school grounds.
Challenges to Overcome at St. Matia
However, despite the fairly typical schedule and structure of the school, it is not without its challenges.
The majority of students’ parents are peasant farmers and are reliant on crops such as beans and maize for their income. When the growing season is not good, the school does not receive enrollment dues since there is no other means of income for the parents.
Other parents send their children to school without meeting enrollment requirements or when their children are sick.
The school is also greatly understaffed for the number of pupils they have and struggles with absenteeism on rainy days. The majority of students at St. Matia have to walk long distances to attend school, which often results in late arrivals and students missing morning classes.
St. Matia also has physical, infrastructure challenges. Electricity to run the school is very expensive. Soil on the school grounds erodes away due to running water and the play area is very rough, making it difficult for students to play safely. The school’s proximity to the highway also makes it very high risk for road accidents involving children.
The Confidence and Knowledge to Face Challenges Head-On
Head teacher Sr. Betty Namatovu, IMHR, recognized these challenges and is facing them head-on using the education she earned through ASEC's Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program. HESA provides opportunities for Catholic women religious in African countries to access undergraduate and master’s level education through partnerships with higher education institutions in Africa and online in the USA. Sr. Betty began her studies online through Marywood University in the USA and then transferred to the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi to pursue a Bachelors’ degree in education.
But before even completing her research work, Sr. Betty was appointed head teacher at St. Matia. Equipped with her education, she has been able to address some of the biggest challenges facing the school and make remarkable improvements, including:
- Installing electricity in the teachers houses and entire school.
- Renovating much of the school property through donations, including construction of the main hall and renovation of the verandas, the boys’ and girls’ dormitories and the office.
- Renovating the latrines and constructing a girls’ latrine.
- Repairing the underground water tank.
- Installing a fence and gate, which reduces animals grazing in the school compound and keeps children safely on school grounds and constructing a stone walkway from the gate to the office.
- Planting grass, beans, maize and cassava on the school grounds.
- Installing a tap water system.
Learning To Lead
And Sr. Betty’s improvements to the school are not limited to the property and building itself. Perhaps the more notable changes are with the staff, students and families of the school.
Enrollment has continued to grow, with the majority of parents providing the requirements of the school and many pupils buying school uniforms. Sr. Betty uses her spare time to encourage parents and students of the school via phone calls. She says it helps her to keep in touch with them and join them in prayers. She adds, "Special prayers are offered for our [ASEC] sponsors in the USA."
Private teachers have been recruited to better distribute the workload and more teachers are arriving to school on time. The primary one, two and three pupils can read and write and there are seven candidates in the boarding section.
These enhancements have led to much celebration at St. Matia. The school celebrates the school patron’s day and Missionary Childhood Day every year. They participated in games and sports up to the national level. They won the education week music festival on the parish level and third place out of twenty-five schools at the diocesan level. They have celebrated the sacraments of Holy Communion with the students and Holy Matrimony with the marriages of some of the teachers.
All of these improvements can be attributed to Sr. Betty’s leadership as head teacher. And Sr. Betty credits the education she has received through ASEC for her success at St. Matia.
“I have managed to do all that because of the skills and knowledge got from studying [through the HESA program]. For sure I am a sister with a difference in all my work.”