Visiting humanist schools in Uganda

I’m going on an adventure next week. Somewhat unexpectedly, I’ll be travelling to Uganda to photograph three humanist schools.

The education system is Uganda is very much a work in progress. The government implemented free primary education a decade ago, and so created a follow-on demand for fee-paying secondary schools – a demand often met by religious organisations, who promptly take the opportunity to indoctrinate (because kids in a country where 35% live below the poverty line really need to be loaded up with some sin). But for plenty even this kind of education is a dream – many parents can’t afford school fees at all, or are forced to skip years while they save up.

To help with these problems, three humanist schools opened in the past few years. They offer scholarships to poorer children, while providing a balanced education. They’re called humanist to differentiate themselves from the religious schools, but are what we’d call secular – they’re neutral on the subject of religion, and teach open-minded critical thinking. Ugandan law requires they teach Christianity, but it’s presented as one of many philosophies, including humanist ideas. And of course the students study for GCSE equivalent maths, English, science, etc..

Isaac Newton High SchoolThe schools have very little money, and are mainly supported by the Ugandan Humanist Schools Trust, who manage donations and fundraising from Humanist organisations worldwide. The schools are improving, but none have running water, and only one mains electricity (another has a petrol generator). New Humanist magazine has brilliantly taken a particular interest in the Mustard Seed school – portions of the proceeds from Robin Ince’s Godless Concerts are donated – and as such it now has an intake of 160 students. But all the schools are very much in need of funds.

I’m hoping I can take some photos to help with this, and I leave next Tuesday. I emailed the Trust 10 days ago, asking if I could come along on a November trip, and was very kindly invited to come along to International Friendship Week. This was great, and more than I was hoping for, but gave me two weeks to get ready. It’s been a bit manic, but I’m almost there.

I’m pretty nervous – I’ve never been outside of the first world before – but excited too. We’ll be travelling to the three schools, and I’ll be staying at Isaac Newton High for a week. I may help teach, if I can be of use, but otherwise I’ll be hovering and learning how it all works.

This will also be my Major Project for my final year of uni. I wanted to do something useful, and this seemed entirely appropriate – I just hope I can produce something helpful. It will explicitly not an art project, though – any pictures will be used solely to help raise money and awareness for the schools.