By Ruth Kasembo
It is not every day that one comes across an 85-year old that is passionate about education and caring for the needy members of society.
However, for Jaja Elinorah Bwesigye, this is a calling for which she will commit all her energies to ensure that the poor children in her community get an education.
Jaja, as she is fondly called,runs a charity primary school in a remote village of Ruganda situated in the hilly areas at the border between Rukungiri and Kanungu districts.
The school is legally registered as Jaja Education Center whereas the founder is referred to by the beneficiary children as Jaja, literally translated in many Ugandan languages as grandma.
Jaja’s drive for education started way back during the era of missionaries in Uganda. Loitering about on a school day in her small Kanungu village in 1930s, Jaja encountered a missionary who, out of concern, inquired why she was not attending school. Jaja’s response was: “My parents are poor”. Out of empathy the missionary offered Jaja a school uniform, a book, a pencil and committed a scholarship that would cover her entire primary level of education at a local church school.
The following day Jaja, looking spruce in her new dress and armed with other study materials, set off for school early morning but the much anticipated ‘day-one’ of school experience ended no further than her home compound. Jaja’s mom demanded that her daughter return home immediately and remove the school uniform. She tore the books, gave Jaja a slap across the face and ordered her back to routine household chores.
Jaja’s fiercely feared mother held a view that education wasn’t of necessity to her daughters as much as it was for her sons!
With Jaja’s hope of attaining an education thwarted, she vowed that in future, should God bless her with a family and off springs, no matter their number and gender, she would give each one of her children a meaningful education, and today, Jaja celebrates educating all her eight biological children that are specialized in diverse fields.
Asked where she drew the inspiration to extend charity to educate needy children, Jaja quotes a Kinyankore saying about charity.
“Obuntu nobu butandikira omumaka tibushemereire kukomamu – which literary translates into “despite charity beginning at home, it shouldn’t end there”.
“It pains me to come across children languishing around during school days. It’s a common site in this community and in such children, I see an image on my own childhood,” narrates Jaja.
So, about five years ago, Jaja embarked on giving a helping hand to the vulnerable by setting up a charitable primary school that identifies and supports children from known poor families within Rugando village who, without such help, risked dropping out of school.
And indeed speaking to Dr. Denis B. Akankunda, a son of this village and a founder of Public Speaking and Leadership Solutions Ltd, he admitted that over ninety percent of his primary school peers of mid 1980s, some of who were extremely intelligent men and women dropped out of school.
But today, such a pathetic situation has been reversed by Jaja, and her Jaja Education Center supports over 100 children of ages ranging from four to 12 years. Notably too, the school has since grown from pre-school to primary level four and Jaja is still striving to have the education center furnished with all primary school levels, from P1 to P7.
The school land donated by Jaja houses the headteacher and provides free lunches and porridge to every child, gotten from agricultural produce from Jaja’s farm. She also meets other essential school expenses, usually using the limited financial resources from her biological children.
Not one to easily give up, at the start of 2019 Jaja embarked on expanding the school by constructing three additional classrooms to accommodate the new class levels of Primary 5, 6 and 7, in a bid to respond to the increasing numbers of beneficiary children.
Jaja however says she faces financial constraints to complete the two additional classrooms.
But Jaja’s hand of charity has received a boost: two indigenous companies – Public Speaking and Leadership Solutions and TrainStream Ltd have embarked on supporting Jaja Education Center, and a fundraising event is planned for February 21st, 2020, geared towards raising funds for completing a three classroom block that will house Primary 5, 6 and 7, to complete Jaja’s dream of establishing a fully-fledged primary school.
It is worth mentioning that Jaja, despite her zero educational attainment, combined with her advanced age, has over the years committed her lifetime savings towards educating and giving hope to the needy.
Indeed, Jaja’s example of rendering support to the needy should be an eye-opener for all the younger generations and the government alike, that ‘where there is a will there is a way’!
In that respect, our contribution as The Second Opinion Publications is to share this story with the larger public with a goal of mobilizing support towards completing Jaja’s school construction efforts.