We at All We Are are continually inspired by the people we meet through our projects and trips to Uganda. Passionate teachers and headmasters make an incredible impact on their students, fellow teachers, and communities. They also help further the success of our sustainable development programs at their schools. For the past two years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with Nambuli Rogers, the Headmaster at Mackay Memorial Primary School. His spirit and perseverance have helped pave to the way toward better conditions for the students at Mackay. His story is far from finished, but Rogers has already made an impact on countless students, parents, teachers and nonprofits since he arrived at Mackay in 2012.
LEARNED FROM THE BEST
Rogers was inspired to teach by his father — a well-respected teacher, headmaster and priest in his community. He watched his father build a legacy at his school and throughout the community. Once Rogers began teaching, he strived to emulate his father’s selflessness and create his own mark as a teacher. With this drive and mindset, Rogers quickly rose through the ranks and landed a position heading several different departments. The next logical step was to apply for a position as deputy head teacher in Kampala. Not surprisingly, he got the job.
CALLED TO DO GOOD
Rogers settled into his new position with ease and continued to make strides in the school where he worked. He figured that after working for a few more years, he’d eventually apply for the position of Head Teacher. As he was pondering this, Rogers was approached by the Division Education Officer, who requested that he transfer to another school.
The Ugandan government introduced the Universal Primary Education (UPE) program in 1997 to increase enrollment and completion in primary schools. Since most families in Uganda have more than four children, the number of primary students shot up. Although having more kids in school is great theoretically, the unfortunate reality was that the schools’ infrastructures weren’t ready for such a massive influx of students. The sharp rise in students led to unsafe classroom settings, poor achievement levels and untrained teachers. Now, to help revive these struggling schools, the administrators of Ugandan government schools often move talented teachers and Headmasters to schools experiencing these hardships.
Mr. Nsereko proposed three schools for Rogers to transfer to. One in particular stood out to Rogers — the school in the worst condition, with the poorest student performance. Rogers saw this school as his opportunity to do the most good, instead of a hopeless situation. The school was Mackay Memorial Primary School, and Rogers has been there ever since.
THE STORY OF THE CAVE
Mackay Memorial Primary School is named after the missionary Alexander Mackay, who is credited with planting the roots of Christianity and formal education in Uganda. Mackay worked at the Martyrs Church, located on the same grounds as the school. He would print the gospel of St. Matthew, including versions translated into Luganda, to teach reading, writing and religion to the locals. When the relationship between the Ugandan kingdom and Christian missionaries went sour, Mackay dug a cave 150 meters below his quarters to secretly continue his teachings. He also built tunnels to help him escape if religious persecutors came for him and a spring to fetch water. Today, you can see a mural painted of Mackay preaching atop the hill just above the cave. The Albion hand-proofing printing press that Mackay used is displayed at the Ethnographic Section of the Ugandan Museum. Despite the historical significance of the school, Mackay Memorial had fallen victim to the outcome of the UPE program, experiencing low grades and unsound classrooms.
MACKAY’S RISE TO SUCCESS
In August of 2012, Rogers visited Mackay Memorial Primary with his wife. He was shocked by the poor conditions of the grounds. However, Rogers was determined to overcome every obstacle, and he began making improvements immediately. He installed a security fence, repainted the entire school, and repaired leaking roofs and floors with holes. He then set his sights on improving student performance.
“WHEN I ARRIVED HERE IN 2012, THERE WAS NO SCHOOL LUNCH. I ENTERED A P7 CLASS AFTER LUNCH AND OUT OF THE 65 STUDENTS WHO WERE IN THIS STREAM [CLASS], ONLY FOUR HAD LUNCH, BECAUSE THE LUNCH WAS OPTIONAL AND THE STUDENTS HAD TO PAY FOR IT. THE 61 OTHER STUDENTS WERE HUNGRY AND COULD NOT FOCUS OR INTERNALIZE ANYTHING. THEY WERE NOT LEARNING, THEY WERE YAWNING,” SAYS ROGERS.
Rogers also noticed that there was not a single student with a first grade [high score] on their Primary Leaving Exam (PLE). After convincing the parents and administration to include a mandatory lunch in school fees, 12 students received first grades within the year. Students were happier, performing better and could give full focus to their studies.
BUILDING A LEGACY
Fast forward five years to now, and Mackay Memorial Primary has started to build its own legacy. Since the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) can transfer Rogers just as easily as he was placed there, he’s had to fight to stay. Both times this happened, the community knew how important Rogers was to the school, and the transfers were cancelled.
With the lights from our 2016 solar installation, Mackay Memorial Primary School will only continue to triumph over their hardships. They no longer struggle to pay electric bills or experience blackouts. Nambuli Rogers started rewriting Mackay Memorial’s story long ago. We only helped him write another chapter.
Mackay Memorial’s motto is “Temudda Nnyuma,” which means “Always forward, never back” Rogers encourages his staff and students to keep looking forward, never back. But if you do happen to look back, you’ll see how far Mackay Memorial Primary has come, thanks to Nambuli Rogers’ vision, hard work and dedication.
Originally published in 2017.