In this guest blog post, Building Tomorrow Fellow Melvin Nasasira recounts the moving story of a 13-year-old boy named Junior who returns to school against all odds. Humanity for Good, the community-based organization that played the pivotal role in enrolling Junior back in school, was co-founded as a result of the social entrepreneurship component of our Fellows Program. The organization aims to lift up rural communities in Uganda by extending love and education to vulnerable children.
According to a 2015 report by the National Planning Authority, only 32 pupils out of 100 who enroll in primary school complete Primary Seven, the final class at the primary level. While I do my Building Tomorrow work in rural Lyantonde District, I encounter so many children who have been to school and have since dropped out due to varying reasons. Usually, the major reason they drop out is poverty. Guardians cannot afford school fees or school requirements such as books, pens, pencils, and school uniforms.
However, I have met pupils who have inspired me to never give up on life. In the picture above is one of those pupils. Sserunjogi Junior, a P3 pupil at Nsiika Primary School, has a dream to become a doctor and continues coming back to school despite his father failing to provide school fees and requirements for him to go to school. I heard his story and my eyes became teary. I have never met anyone as committed to their dreams as Junior is!
Junior, 13, lives with his father in a village called Nsiika. His father is a “shamba boy,” or farm hand, who moves village to village tilling people’s land for money. They have been moving like this for as long as Junior can remember. “I go with my father wherever he goes to dig,” Junior told me when I asked where they stay. He also told me the father has been showing him how to till land for so long.
I got to know Junior last year after I asked his Primary 2 class teacher for pupils who were absent from school. With the help of my community volunteers, I visited homes of some of them, spoke to their parents, and lured the children back to school with promises of a happy life after school. Junior was on the list but I failed to get to him that day. I sent word through his classmates to tell him to come back to school.
After a month of waiting, he was at school again and I was able to speak with him. It was break time at 10:40 a.m., and everyone else was happily playing: Only he sat on his heels squatting at a distance in the shade from where everyone was playing, burying his face in his tiny dirty hands. I asked the pupils who were playing, and they pointed at him. When I called his name, he was startled, and he tiredly carried his head out of his hands and saw me looking at him. He rose up and moved towards where I was standing. He stood out from his friends as his legs were dirty, his face gloomy and eyes bloodshot red. He looked hungry and at the same time scared. His scarred legs looked too weak to carry his body and I could hardly hear a word from his dry lips when I asked how old he was.
After a few minutes, we were able to have a decent conversation in which he told me about his struggles to stay in school, despite the constant movements his father makes looking for new land to till. For that reason, he has been in and out of school—something that has affected his progress in school. He is just in P3 at the age of 13. When I asked his teacher, she told me he is among the best in her class, despite his absenteeism. The head teacher told me Junior’s father struggles with fees so much that he sometimes offers to do work at school to cover the fees.
After school in the afternoon, Junior and I went out to meet his father. We found him in a banana plantation working, and when he saw me and Junior, he quickly stopped his work and walked towards us. We talked for a few minutes, and he told me he wants his child to get an education despite the conditions. I explained to him that his son is one of the best in school, but he cannot continue doing well if he is in and out.
At this moment, he became so sad and cried, “I am so sorry sir, I have done everything I can, but I can’t afford the fees to take him to school. I can’t even afford food on a daily basis. School fees is a bigger call,” he explained. I left after telling him to try all he can to support Junior in school. I went back home, and in my room, I reminisced about my childhood and in so many instances, Junior looked like me.
I decided I had to do something about it. I talked to my friend Henry Hensa Jjemba about the child, and he offered to pay his school fees through Humanity for Good, a community-based organization I co-founded with Cecilia Nambalirwa. I told Junior and his father that an angel had offered to pay school fees for Junior, and the father was incredibly happy. I, however, told him that he would have to work hard and provide Junior with all school requirements and he, without hesitation, agreed. All this happened at the end of last term, and Junior was promoted to Primary Three.
Recently, the new term began and I resumed my work a few weeks ago. I hadn’t seen Junior in school ever since we started the new term on 5th of February. 5 days ago as I rode through the communities, I met Junior. I stopped and asked why he hadn’t started school yet. He told me he had gone to look for money to buy school requirements. I asked, and he told me he left home before Christmas period and he has been living and tilling people’s land in a village close to 15 miles away from his home. “My father was sickly and weak, so I had to look for a way to get money for my school requirements,” he explains.
This is the most emotional I have ever gotten. I was lost for words and just asked if I could take photos of him. In the photos, he is carrying books, a mathematical set, pens, pencils and maize flour he bought with the money he had been paid after working all that time. He told me he will be making porridge out of this flour to carry to school every day. Ladies and gentlemen, he is 13 years of age. What is your reason for giving up on your dreams, huh?
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