KOBOKO. As one approaches St Charles Lwanga, located one kilometer along the Koboko-Oraba road, a line of giant eucalyptus and teak trees greet you.

The cool breeze and fragrance from the decorative flowers on the compound present an amiable atmosphere for students. Inside the compound, a giant statue of the school’s founding headmaster late Fr Francis Cifaldi stars majestically.

However the rusting rooftops, broken window panes and pealing and faded wall paints reveal the sorry state of St Charles Lwanga and the urgent need for repair.

Across the sports ground, the wall tennis court looks abandoned, the basketball court weary.

The library is in dire need of restocking and the drinking water is a challenge due to frequent breakdown of the two old boreholes which is also shared with the community.

The school’s four-month old principal Mr Charles Drici Masimo says though an old school, St Charles Lwanga missed out on the massive facelift the government has provided to schools under an African Development bank funded arrangement.

How the school started

St Charles Lwanga was started in 1953 as a technical school by the White fathers. It was dedicated to the leader of the Uganda martyrs, St Charles Lwanga, whose values of good leadership and strong spiritual beliefs were expected to inspire students.

In 1964, it was recognized as a national technical school and turned into a secondary school a year later starting with 40 pioneer students. In 1976, the advanced level section was added.

The school flourished in its early years, producing some of the notable personalities in the region and the country.

These include Dr Sylvester Onzivua, renowned consultant forensic pathologist, Dr Aldo Pariyo, the proprietor of Rhema hospital in Arua and Rev Fr John Mary Inziku, the rector of Sts Peter and Paul seminary, Pokea.

Academic downturn

St Charles Lwanga’s troubles began with the 1979 war that ousted late former president Idi Amin from power.

Its location in Mr Amin’s home area meant that the chasing Tanzanian army supported Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) soldiers were determined to finish off the structures in a wanton act of revenge.

The soldiers deliberately threw bombs into the empty classrooms destroying two main blocks that have remained unreconstructed to date. This is further coupled by the lack of renovation of the school’s buildings save for the minor ones done in 1990s.

The frequent student strikes starting in the late 1990s to the present day accompanied by poor academic results seriously damaged the image of St Charles Lwanga.

Masimo Drici 2Mr Masimo Drici stands near the ruins of the 1979 bombed laboratory. PHOTO BY CLEMEMT ALUMA

This has discouraged parents from enrolling their children leading to a drastic fall in student population. For example in 2015, there were 630 students, 463 in 2016, 346 in 2017 and 350 students this year.

But the changing economic hardships have also made it difficult for the parents to afford sending their sons to the boarding school considering the fact that many day schools have sprung up.s

Performance wise 40% of the 27 students who sat A’ level at St Charles Lwanga failed flat while only 39 out of 60 candidates who sat A’ level in 2017 passed.

For O’ level, available statistics show that only 12 students out of 101 who sat Uganda Certificate of Education exams last year passed in first grade.

Revival efforts

Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges, Mr Drici is optimistic that the past glory is not all gone and is determined to return the school in its rightful place, where success and discipline move in tandem.

“People want performance and we have to see that performance is improved to regain confidence of those who have trust in us by improving the discipline, teaching and learning as well as improving relations with the community around us,” he asserted.

Mr Drici said the foundation board of the school, the Catholic church is very much interested in what is happening there that it has assigned a priest who as the Champlain attends to the spiritual needs of both the students and the staff.

The government supports the school through posting of teachers on government pay roll but some of them trek from a far because staff houses are not enough.

Describing the incessant student unrest as a global phenomenon of defiance to established order, the principal says they have stepped up counseling services to students who are found in wrong side of the regulations.

“When a student misbehaves we involve his parents and more effort is put on counseling, that is why no student has been expelled in the past one year,” he said.

The change is a departure from the old and traditional methods where students who violated school rule and regulations used to be suspended or at the worst dismissed from the school, a thing which never augured well with some parents.

Masimo DriciMr Masimo Drici, the current headmaster of St Charles Lwanga College.

The Old Boys (OBs,) have not left the school either, they have lined up a couple of activities all geared up towards the return of the school to its old glorious days.

Mr Walter Nyamua, the Secretary General of the OBs association said there were many activities which the old boys are under taking all geared towards improving the status quo.

They have wired all the dormitories to have electricity and they conduct regular carrier talks to encourage the students to focus and concentrate on education.

“We want to mentor these students to understand the philosophy under which the school operated to produce great citizens,” he said.

The OBs have also designed strategies to reward hardworking teachers as a way of motivation to make them teach better.

They are engaged in planting more trees to increase the greenery of the school compound and preparations are underway to talk to the community members around the school whose relationship with the school had deteriorated over the years.