Micheal George Hemus and his partner Robin Galan, the founders of friends of Tokamalirawo Aids Support and Action Group Awareness (TASAAGA) foundation last month joined the TASAAGA schools leadership in a drive aimed at lightening the face of the schools Hemus who is based in UK together with his longtime friend Galan have supported this schools to ensure that needy and vulnerable learners access free education, Abdu Laham writes.
Tasaaga Foundation which birthed Tasaaga schools (primary and secondary) in 2007 was founded by Burhan Mubiru in 1996 as a driver for awareness creation about HIV/AIDS and the attainment of proper medical treatment for the disease that had claimed numerous lives, especially on the island.
The school offers free education to orphans and vulnerable learners, especially from the community which has the only government primary school, six kilometers away.
Speaking to DaParrot last week, Mr Hemus said that the school in the post-covid-19 era, needed a lot of care and upkeep with more input which prompted them to return.
“We are planning to come back every after six months if possible for the next couple of years because the school has been running for fifteen years so we want it to run for another fifteen years and longer. The next three years, we are going to be planning for the future 15-20 years of the school,” he said
Painting of the entire school, construction of additional classroom blocs for the nursery section, and establishment of their play area were underway as we caught up with Mr Hemus.
“We would be repairing different buildings and we are going to be installing grills on all the windows so that we don’t get bats flying in as much. We are going to make sure that we are cleaning everything a lot more and just trying to raise all the levels of the building. We are building a sick bay, a store room and we are also going to donate more sports equipment,” he said
Adding, “We are going to help the school director Bruhan with improving and upskilling the organization. That means we are going to bring in an accountant to help with the financial management system which would be good for the school for the next 20 years and maybe longer. With that financial system, we would be able to better run the school and that will also allow us to try and do all the projects in the future,”
Uganda, he said is changing a lot because for example 15 years back, most of the people preferred Kampala because there was no electricity here, there was no water, Sitabaale was much smaller than it is now but Uganda is growing very quickly, the roads have been tarmacked, the people are moving out of Kampala and moving into the surrounding area, there are more schools in the area but they tend to be private schools so people are facing slightly different challenges and in order for the school to be able to continue to serve the community, we need to adapt the school.
The duo who chest thump in supporting hundreds of thousands of needy learners attain education say they will work with their best efforts and ensure that more and more students get a high-quality education at a low or no cost at all.
“We are taking things at a gradual process by starting to help the school with the organization and with planning and we have started with repairs and upgrades the school needs. As I said
How he joined Tasaaga School
Mr. Hemus joined his longtime friend Galan in supporting this school in 2018, Galan started offering support in 2007 when he saw a call on the internet by Mr Burhan.
“Robin and I have been friends for more than thirty years and so I knew Robin when he first started to be involved with Tasaaga. He told me a lot about the project, Bruhan, a suitable village and he showed me photos. He told me about the people we work with and first of all I contributed a few times with donations, my family contributed with some donations but I was always working a lot in the UK and I have always run small businesses like manufacturing and hospitality businesses,” he narrated.
“I never really had the opportunity to come to Uganda but in 2018, I had some time and asked Robin if he wanted me to come because Robin is very good with his hands but less good with organization, spreadsheets, and strategies so he knew that I could help with those bits that he is missing because I am not very good with my hands but I can do all the other things. He invited me in 2018, I was really impressed. I was amazed at how many kids are here, the standard of teaching, how welcoming the local community was, and Uganda in general so I spent two weeks here and met Bruhan, saw the classroom, and understood the challenges, the big issues and at that time we were having trouble with the regular payment of teacher salaries and one of the things I knew I could do was help with that,” he added.
“I did a lot of research and read different reports about the Ugandan Education system and learned about the government schools. But I also learned that Uganda has one of the highest dropout rates in primary education in the world. The UNESCO report listed three clear reasons for that. One was that children who go to government schools don’t have money for launch and so they end up leaving school or going to work. Secondly that teachers of government schools were not regularly paid on time and thirdly the classes can be very big,”
In 2019, Hemus and Galan formed a UK charity dubbed Friends of Tasaaga where they made monthly donations to make sure the teachers are paid on time every month.
“We have been doing that and even in covid-19, we paid them every month to make sure they had income. By doing that, it allowed Bruhan and the team a bit more breathing room so that they could concentrate more on teaching so that we offered better food. Children today get breakfast now and lunch. We have also kept the class sizes reasonable,” he said
The school apparently has 260 primary children, 51 are boarders, and 35 are Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs).
“We are a nonprofit school and every month, the UK charity donates the teachers’ salary. Our longer-time aim is for the school not to be reliant on external donations from other countries but the school to be able to sustain itself. But still have as many places as we have now for OVSs and for children from low-income families,”
He said that his plan is to get the school to a better level and the most important thing is to look for investments like grants because the school has never had grants.
“It has always relied on private donations and we continue to do that, we really want the school to be a local private school because that’s our aim so it needs a lot of investment and that’s not going to come from private individuals, that’s going to come from international organizations and in order to do that, we need a lot of professionalism in terms of financial management, in terms of how were are organized, how we present ourselves and so our plan in the next three years is to implement all those things,”
“The UK charity is investing in an accountant for the school, we are investing in all the buildings to improve them, we are continuing to invest in the kids’ facilities, education trips, and then we believe that during those three years, we will also be developing a plan for the future 15-20 years which will involve the changes happening in Uganda,”
Impact of his involvement
Hemus says that from the results he sees although he is not on the ground, every year seeing between 15-30 children graduating from primary school and there is a secondary school so there is an opportunity of moving from primary and joining secondary education which we know is very important.
“I believe we have brought more people to the area because there is a school here. I think if the school wasn’t here, these people would be closer to Kiwenda and Sitabaale because here there is no government school in the area, you have to go five kilometers for it and there is no government school in the Parish so I think If we weren’t here, the only opportunities are expensive private schools but they are not affordable to the parents of the children that come to this school so if the school wasn’t here, these children would not be going to school because having to travel an hour by foot to the local government school and an hour back,”
“I think that has to have a positive impact on their lives and on their families and on the community. People seem to be happy with the school, I talked to parents during the parents-teachers meeting and some of the people in the village, and they all seem very positive about the school,”
Hemus’s history of charity
When Robin started, he didn’t start with the charity, most of the donations were his own, from his family and friends. In 2018, I became involved and then we started the UK charity where we take monthly donations from people in the UK mostly our friends and family, and help support the salary here. We have no intention of supporting other schools. We are here because Robin met Bruhan, Robin came here and saw the need for a school in Sitabale parish and he wanted to help with that.
My personal reasons for doing it started when I was 38 in 2018. I got to a point where I probably have learned a lot about running small organizations and in working with Bruhan, the head teacher, and other people involved in the Tasaaga organization, I have a chance to share some of the experiences I have got and also a chance to learn from them.
I am trying to do something positive in the world which is a very difficult place because often, there are a lot of people facing very challenging conditions it is not a secret that people in the west have more privileged life and it’s nice giving something back to try and contribute to one small area of Uganda to hopefully thrive and do better. We try not to focus on just learning but also skilling the children in music, hairdressing, and carpentry among others.