Czech charity opens new elementary school in Uganda

The Prague branch of the Christian charity Charita (Caritas) has long been involved in projects in Uganda in East Africa. This month, they embarked on a new project, opening a new elementary school providing education as well as meals to poverty-stricken kids. 200 or so children have begun attending the school, supported by sponsors from the Czech Republic. Charita’s Jarmila Lomozová was my guest and I asked her more about the project as well as her charity's long-term dedication to the African country.

“It has been ten years since we began work in Uganda and our main aim is helping the poorest children to get an education. In the year 2000 we began a child sponsorship programme – the first project implemented by Charita in Uganda – and today nearly 4,000 children are helped and sponsored by individuals, families, parishes and schools from the Czech Republic.”

Do you operate in all parts of Uganda or just in some regions?

“We do have a couple local partners and we operate in the district of Lugazi, Kasana-luweero, Nebbe, Gulu. We expanded to Gulu, which is in the north of Uganda, where there is still conflict and the area is not very safe. Basically four or five districts and the largest number of projects is in Lugazi, to the east of the capital Kampala.”

In general, how would you describe poverty and social conditions in areas where you are involved?

“Uganda is a developing country and as such millions of people live in poverty without access to education, healthcare, safe water or job opportunities. We know places where children live without having a chance to attend even primary school. This is why we decided to not only support children – paying for their education and needs such a school uniforms and items and so on, but why we also decided to build a new primary school of our own in an area where there is no education at all.”

This is the school in or near the town of Kitula?

“Yes, it’s not a town but a very remote village.”

Jarmila Lomozová
How did the project come together?

“We opted for this idea two years ago to help those without school experience or who had to travel very far to get to their classes. We also wanted to get experience in running a school: at this time we support around 200 schools in the country but face problems such as low quality and a lack of materials or poor skills on the part of teachers. The quality is really very low in state schools. We need the experience of running our own school so that we can get the know-how and spread it to other schools as well. We are hoping that our school can be a model institution.”

If we take it step-by-step what was at the site of the school a year ago?

“One year ago there were only trees and bushes and little else, land donated by our local partner the diocese of Lugazi, so there was really nothing. We began from point zero in construction, preparing the land to really build the new school, which so far consists of four classrooms and an administration bloc. We also plan to build accommodation for the teachers and other classrooms as well.

“The first day was really lovely when they saw for the first time the school, entered through the blue gate, saw their classrooms. Each of the classrooms is painted a different colour and they saw those too. They also saw the administration building where they will be able to meet with the headmaster and with their teachers. The school also has a kitchen and children will receive two meals a day: a school lunch but also a meal in the morning, so that they will not be hungry and focus fully on their studies.”

There are two official languages in Uganda – what language are the children learning in?

“They are being taught in Luganda, which is the local language, and later on when they get older they will pick up English.”

How is your sponsorship programme incorporated into the school?

“Each child at the school is part of the programme – a decision that helped us to finance the facility.”

How does the programme work? Are donors anonymous, just giving funds, or do they communicate with their chosen child?

“Sponsorship is not anonymous and sponsors get a profile of the child and know their name and receive letters regularly. It is a nice opportunity to connect to families or people together and of course what is important is that it helps the child not only through primary school but beyond: secondary school, while the most talented children can go on even to university.”

I’ve read that a large part of the population are of the Christian faith: does religion play a role to any degree other than the fact that you are a Christian charity or does it just stay at that?

“We help people regardless of their faith, the only difference is that we usually seek Church-based local partners in the areas where we work.”

I understand that the new school was named after the Saint John of Nepomuk – can you tell me a little more about that?

“Well, it’s the first time we’ve chosen a Czech patron saint: in other projects we have always chosen local saints, such as St Charles Lwanga for our hospital there. This was the first time and we simply wanted to spread the good name of the Czech Republic by choosing this famous saint from the Czech Republic. So that’s how it went.”