Reaching out to over 100 schools countrywide

Since the beginning of March, Uganda Christian University (UCU) has been conducting free career outreach programmes across the country. The Standard’s ALEX TAREMWA  followed the team and he writes. 

Prim Tumuramye, the UCU public relations officer addressing students at Immaculate Heart Girls School in Rukungiri district. (Photo by Alex Taremwa)

The programme, which kicked off in West Nile, was organised by the Career Development and Placement Office under the theme: “Making Holistic Career Choices.”

Although the outreaches were also geared towards marketing the university, they primarily centred on helping secondary school students shape their career paths through attaining holistic education and guidance. This is part of the university’s efforts to give back to society.

In two months, over 100 schools were visited countrywide. During the visits, emphasis was placed on discipline, academic excellence, scholarship opportunities and the UNEB recently adopted grading system.

Elgon region 

During the month of March, UCU took to Eastern Uganda and traversed the districts of Mbale, Soroti, Kumi, Serere, Kapchorwa, Bududa, Manafwa, Tororo in close collaboration with Mbale University College.

While there the team combed the Elgon region with the vigour of a hungry lion, and covered 54 schools in eight working days.

In Kumi, Soroti and Kapchorwa districts, the team was tasked to explain why the university was hesitant to put a study centre in the districts.

This complaint was often re-echoed by parents and teachers who argued that Mbale was very distant for them to have a convenient work and study arrangement although they would have loved to upgrade.

Mrs Prim Tumuramye, UCU’s public relations officer, acknowledged the need for a study centre, especially in Kapchorwa District, whose geographical location she argued, was unlike Kumi and Soroti, not cost-friendly.

“The Mbale administration should benchmark and consider this very viable option and take advantage of the demand before competition acts faster. There are already three other university campuses in Mbale, a university in Soroti, and Sebei is fertile ground for an institution of higher learning,” she said.

Despite the transportation and weather challenges, the Eastern Uganda outreach covered a wider population area than the rest.

According to Ms Connie Musisi, UCU’s Career Development and Placement officer, some of the districts that were initially mapped for visiting were left out due to scarcity of resources.

“We have not visited Budaka, Kibuku, Amuria, Butaleja due to meagre resources but efforts will be made later to see that these districts are also covered,” she told The Standard .

Ms Musisi cautioned staff members, especially in the academic office, who often drag their feet in dealing with student inquiries and complaints without regard to how far they have come to join the university adding that such reckless use of office should be stopped.

“We get these students from very far and they go through a lot to get to university. They really deserve to be handled with care because they are our primary clients,” she added.

UCU Mbale Campus, which was last year elevated to constituent college status, had been a contentious institution in the Elgon region, with most taking advantage of its new name (Mbale University College), to argue that it was no longer an affiliate of UCU but was now a ‘mere college’.

The author, Alex Taremwa, talking to students at St. Joseph’s Vocational School, Mbarara where he also studied back in 2004. (Photo by Doreen Kajeru)

This was a source of discouragement to many who had plans of joining the campus. This confusion was, however, put to rest by the Academic Registrar, Ms Lillian Gimuguni who appreciated the much needed boost that the main campus offered to resolve the marketing crisis.

Mr John Vianney Ahumuza, a lecturer in the Foundation Studies Department, noted that the number of schools in Eastern Uganda and their enrolment presents a great opportunity for UCU at both Mbale and the main campuses, and this should be exploited.

“You find a school with 2,000; if 500 of them are in Senior Six, even if we tapped only 50 from each school, that would be immense for the university,” he noted.

 Western Uganda 

After the Easter break the team headed off to the western part of Uganda. We pitched camp in the western capital of Mbarara, for two days and visited some of Uganda’s most renowned schools: Mary Hill High School, Mbarara High School, Ntare School, St Joseph’s Vocational School, among others.

Mbarara was cosy and the reception for the team was warm in schools and even warmer after the radio talk show hosted by Vision Radio 89.1 FM. By the morning, the PRO, Ms Tumuramye, had received over 100 phone calls, all inquiring about courses and application letters to join UCU.

Snake in the hotel 

The team proceeded to Bushenyi District where they visited some of the best-performing schools in the region such as St Agnes Girls High School, Plus Two High School, Bweranyangi Girls.

Bushenyi proved tricky in terms of hotel accommodation and lodging as the traditional district from which three more districts were sliced offers little boarding choices.

The first hotel the team checked into was too close to a discotheque – a no-go area for an already exhausted team that was looking forward to much needed sleep. The place we checked out next had enough rooms and was really quiet. When the caretaker opened the door to the first room, Ms Connie Musisi was quick to book it. “I am taking this one,” she shouted.

When the next room was opened, the caretaker was the first to bolt away, screaming like she had seen a leopard. 

The team then ran from the scene as fast as their legs could carry them even though they didn’t know what they were fleeing from.

When I gained the courage to peep into the room, there lay a huge snake on the floor. After that no one was brave enough to stay at the lodge.

Not even I; and so the quest went on until we settled for a fifth class motel before heading off to Rukungiri.

This is Patrick Lugemwa, a lecturer in the Education faculty. Students loved him for the gestures and vigour with which he delivered his talks. Here, he was talking to students at Makobore High School, Rukungiri district.

South Western Uganda 

After spending the day visiting most of the schools on the way to Rukungiri, we arrived into the South Western Uganda town famous as the home of the FDC presidential flag bearer Dr Kiiza Besigye, at around 8 pm.

We settled into a fairly good hotel, grateful that even though it was devoid of warm water, at least it had no snakes resident there.

The team visited Immaculate Heart Girls, St Gerald’s High School, Makobore High School, and Kinyasaano Girls before moving on to the studios of Rukungiri FM where another radio talk show was held.

After munching the goats’ meat that an alumnus was generous enough to provide, the team proceeded to the ‘W’ part of the map of Uganda: Kabale and Kisoro. The weather was surprisingly warm in Kabale and the undulating hills.

The team was boosted by reinforcement from Bishop Barham University College (BBUC), UCU’s first constituent college. In total, 15 schools were visited in Kabale and eight in Kisoro.

It was noted that a lot more schools could have been visited had BBUC’s public relations officer informed them prior as the case was in Arua and Mbale.

 Northern Uganda 

After a few days of much needed rest, the UCU career team took off to the northern Uganda districts of Lira, Oyam, Gulu and Kitgum. Most of these districts had for decades been held back by the war against the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA) rebels of Joseph Kony and the scars of this war are still visible.

At St Mary’s Girls School in the village of Aboke village in Kole District, 25km west of Lira Municipality, one cannot help but shed a tear and mumble a prayer at the sight of the monument built in remembrance of the over 150 girls the rebels abducted on October 10, 1996.

Although Sister Rachele, the headmistress at the time, and one John Bosco Ocen, followed the rebels into the Gulu bushes and negotiated for the release of 109 of the girls, 30 had initially remained but 25 of them have since returned. Four have been confirmed dead but one is still missing.

The same horrific stories are repeated in Gulu and Kitgum, where Kony’s massacre grounds are said to have been located.

In spite of the experiences, the people have organised themselves, rebuilt their towns, livelihoods and schools. 

In fact, schools like King James and Dr Milton Obote College, St Katherine in Lira, Pope John Paul II, St Joseph’s College Layibi, Sacred Heart Girls in Gulu and Kitgum High School, have all a school enrolment of over 1,500 students.

The countrywide schools outreach was made possible by the highly motivated, dedicated and determined UCU team that comprised: Mr Geoffrey Kirya (driver), Ms Prim Tumuramye (public relations), Mr Patrick Lugemwa (education), Mr Jonah Waiswa, Mr Timothy Tenywa (admissions), Ms Connie Musisi (career development), Mr John Vianney Ahumuza (Foundation Studies), Mr Joseph Omonya (Academics), Mr Rodgers Tayebwa (Civil Engineeering), Ms Annet Musiimenta (Education), Mr. Nicholas Mpairwe (Academics), Doreen Kajeru (The Standard) and the author.

The UCU career team pose for a photo at the sculpture of Sir Samuel Baker, a British explorer after whom Sir Samuel Baker Secondary School, Gulu was named. Baker is credited for abolishing slavery in northern Uganda during the colonial era (Photo by Alex Taremwa)

Their hard work reminded me of what Mr Andrew Mwenda told me late last year that, “the ideal gift to ever give is yourself. It may not seem that expensive or sound very novel, but believe me, it works every time.

It is one of those gifts that has great value but no price tag – it cannot be lost nor will it ever be forgotten.