Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Atheists and Agnostics Making a Difference in the World I: Bwambale Robert and The Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda

Bwambale Robert is the founder of the Kasese United Humanist
Association.  He recently founded the Kasese Humanist Primary
School in Western Uganda.
Bwambale Robert, 36.
Facebook: fb.com/kasesehumanistschool
Blog: School News

This is the first post in a new series of personal profiles of Atheists, Agnostics and Humanists who are helping to make the world a better place.

Click here for all posts in this series.

Over the next few weeks I will focus on people who are making a difference for others.  They are examples of Humanism in Action.

Introduction

For the first part of this series, I've been lucky enough to get in contact with Bwambale Robert, who has achieved a great deal in his first 36 years of life.  Here is his own introduction.  I have edited his responses for brevity and clarity for my readership.
I am Bwambale Robert, aged 36, Ugandan by nationality. I was born in a village called Bikunya in Karambi sub-county which is located in Kasese District, Western Uganda.  I am the second-born from a family of four with two boys and two girls.  I am an orphan, having lost my parents at the early age of 8 and was brought up by my grandmother, who passed away some 6 years ago.
I grew up partly in Kasese District in my early years of schooling and moved to Kampala for both secondary, high school and tertiary education.   I am married and have a lovely daughter called Rihanna. My history is full of good and bad experiences and its a long story.
Bwambale grew up in a religious household.  Although those who knew Bwambale's father say he was secular and rational minded just like Bwambale, his grandmother, a devoted Anglican, was a strong religious influence in his early life and taught religion to him and his siblings from an early age.  But he began to question religion later in his childhood.
When I reached secondary school, I started getting mixed feelings about what was being told to me.  I became skeptical and curious about Man's creation and the unbelievable stories that exist in the Bible.  For example, the fact that Jesus was born miraculously without a father, the changing of water into wine, walking on water, getting risen from the dead and many more stories. 
When I joined a tertiary institution in 1996, I started developing an idea to come out from the crowds.  I thought of establishing an organization at some time to advocate secular ideas.   
In 2009, Bwambale founded the Kasese United Humanist Association (KUHA) with "the goal of promoting Freethought in Uganda."  The association is affiliated with the extremely active Uganda Humanist Association (UHA). In March, the UHA held a conference in Kampala whose theme was Humanism For a Free and Prosperous Africa.

The Kases United Humanist Association also participated in the East African Regional Conference that was organised by the Ugandan Humanist Effort to Save Women (UHESWO) in conjunction with the International Humanist Ethical Youth Organization (IHEYO), a youth organization of the International Humanist and the Ethical Union (IHEU).  The Kasese United Humanist Association is a member organization in the IHEYO Africa Working Group.

Building Skeptical Minds for a Brighter Future in Uganda

Smiling students at the Kasese Humanist Primary School 
standing on some old railroad implements.  The school is
situated near the old Kasese Railroad Station.
Just one year after founding Kasese's first and only Humanist association, Bwambale was instrumental in the founding of the Kasese Humanist Primary School (KHPS) and he is now Project Director for the school.  This is the first children's school in the region based solely on the philosophy of Humanism and it has the direct support of Atheist Alliance International (AAI) via its officers and worldwide membership.  Through the AAI, freethinkers from all over the world have joined together in support of this school project.

Since the school's inception it has grown to 331 students with a staff 16 comprised of 13 teachers and 3 support staff, the school cook, the night guard and the school bursar.
I embarked on the School Project because I realized that it's better to reach out to younger minds such that they grow up with critical minds and be in a position to think rationally.  They will save future generations by believing only in things backed by empirical evidence and by using their brains to solve problems. 
Almost all the schools in Uganda have a connection with religion.  I figured that this is not right as religious philosophy is not based on facts but rather fictions and imaginary revelations.  I was also motivated by the Ugandan Government's policy on the promotion of science education in schools.
We expose the kids to rational and critical thinking by ensuring that they apply the "Why? When? Where? What? and How?" approach to understand the world we live in. Our kids are brought up to be curious about everything and this puts them in a better position to understand nature and the world around them.

Local Reaction


I asked Bwambale what the local reaction to a non-religious school based on Secular Humanist principles has been in Kasese.
We are the first secular humanist school in my area and Uganda as a whole.  So, in the school's initial preparations, the locals were curious and flocked to our school to learn more about our project. We came out bold, explaining what a Humanist School entails. We explained the philosophy of Humanism and what is meant by Humanism and what it means to be a Humanist. But at the end of it all people now know that we are harmless people ready to help with educating young Ugandan children.
However, most of our competitors - especially those who own schools or run churches - have tried and are still trying to tarnish us by feeding people in the community rumours that we are dangerous people; we don't know god; we are all homosexuals* and we are a ritualistic cult.  Obviously, these are all lies and we have indeed tried to tell our people and the world who we really are and that we embrace the philosophies of Humanism and Science for we see they are better for the world.
*Given the current dangerous climate in Uganda when it comes to homosexuality, even the accusation of being homosexual could be a serious danger (see: Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill).

For those curious to know about Humanism, the school has a description of what they mean by it on their website: http://kasesehumanistschool.webs.com/humanism.htm


How Much Exposure To Religion Is Enough?

I asked Bwambale whether the school instructs its students in religion.  There is definitely no religious indoctrination of any kind.  But it turns out the school does teach a Religious Education course so their students will meet the requirements of the national curriculum.  I agree with this.  Everyone needs knowledge of what religions are.
No, there is no religious instructions at the school.  Though we do teach our children Religious Education, we don't stress a lot on it and it's only taught because it's compulsory as it's examinable at Grade 7 by the Uganda National Examinations Board.
So we teach it so the children can pass the national exams.  But in addition our children are taught Humanism to counteract this so that our kids get exposed to both faces.  In the end, we leave them to choose the right path.  As our school is based on Humanist Values and Ethics, we remain optimistic that at the end of the day children will think critically and identify Science as the winning side.
In the spirit of free knowledge and open discussion, the school allowed a Christian pastor to speak freely to the children and distribute books (see: A Local Pastor Visits the School).

week.  Pictured is American volunteer Daniel Loving.
The class relies entirely on donated computers and 
the computer room is in dire need of additional 
furniture.  They have just four computers, three of
which were donated by Loving himself.

International Ties

I was interested in what kind of relationships exist between the school and other schools and organizations across the world.  It turns out that children in two American schools have Pen Pal letter writing programs between their children and students at the school in Uganda.
Our school is connected to two primary schools both based in the United States,  namely Goyneses Elementary School based in North Las Vegas in Nevada and Gainesville Country Day School in Florida.   Although these schools are not affiliated with a Humanist Foundation the coordinating persons are secular.  We arrange letter exchange services where our students communicate to each other through letter writing.
I also suggested the possibility of a Pen Pal program between the Kasese school and North American children.  Perhaps they could be paired up with students at the school while at Camp Quest.  Bwambale is also working to get Internet installed to the school, so there is the possibility of video conferencing with North American children.  I don't claim to represent Camp Quest in any way, nor do I know precisely how a program like this may work, but I think it would be an interesting exercise for children from both countries.  Bwambale agrees.


Most Importantly: How You Can Help!

I asked Bwambale how people across the world can help the school.  He gave me the following options.


The Kasese Humanist Primary School: More Information And Photos 

A photo-blog showing the construction of the school can be found on the Kasese United Humanist Association's site here.  More pictures and news can be found at the Kasese Humanist Primary School's own blog here.  You can always Like the school's Facebook here.  Finally, Bwambale's Facebook is here.

Future Posts In This Series

I would like to first take this opportunity to thank Bwambale Robert for his kindness and patience fielding all my e-mails while I prepared this piece.  On top of all this, I would like to thank him, his whole staff and Daniel Loving for doing such wonderful and important work to help the children of Kasese.

In future posts I hope to do more profiles of the teachers and staff of Bwambale's school.  If I do, they will all be available here:  Kasese Humanist Primary School.

In addition, I will profile two North American Atheists who have volunteered their time in the past to help others.  These will be coming out in the next few weeks.

6 comments:

  1. Q. The teachers' salaries, rent, utilities and meals - The Teachers are also Atheist ? Secular ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I forwarded your question to the school project director, Bwambale Robert. You can find his response in this thread below.

      Thanks for your question!

      Delete
  2. Peter,
    Thanks for your querries and i am grateful answering them here; Teachers salaries, renting of the school premises and other utilities like water, electricity, internet, staff meals, chalk and scholastics like chalk,stationery,text books are all on the shoulders of the school management ie the School directors Office.
    Meals served at the school are paid for by the students and are optional. Our teachers are not all atheists but Humanist drill lessons are conducted and our teachers observe the school purpose of ensuring no dogmas and indoctrinations are exercised, no putting on of religious items like rosaries, head scarfs, practice of prayers are allowed on campus.
    Uganda as a country where almost every body is attached to a religion and most of the teachers come when they are religious and are exposed to rational ideas and made to decide which path to take whether science way or devine way.... we just live it to them but ensure they do their activities at school inline with the school purpose and foundation. Hope this answers your questions and do apologise for not being brief but its necessary i guess!
    Yours in freethought,
    Bwambale Robert

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi there! I am one of the original volunteers who helped set up the school. Just wanted to say thank you for posting the information and helping to spread the word!

    "Yours in Free Thought, "

    -Edan

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks so much for your comment, Edan! You may have also heard of the chicken coop as well? Much is being accomplished at the school! I'm always interested in profiling or offering guest posts to humanists or atheists who do positive good for the community. Let me know if you would be interested.


    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete