The Persistence Student
Bwindi Eco Children’s home (BECU) was founded in 2013 by Francis Byamukama, a professional teacher and social worker. Francis was born in Iraaro village, next to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. He was raised in a very poor family that could not afford education for any of their 10 children.
Francis consistently asked his parents to send him to school until he was nine years old. Determined to succeed, he approached his Uncle Joram to help him get into school. Joram, a retired teacher, recognized Francis’ heart and will to succeed, so he offered to send him to a day school in exchange of labor in the evenings and weekends.
Francis quickly started school. One hour before going to school he would till the shamba (a tea garden), fetch water or collect firewood. In the evenings he would graze the goats, and in the weekends he would pluck tea, but all the same he was happy and better off than his siblings who were staying home.
At the age of 24, Francis first qualified as a grade 3 teacher and was appointed by the government as an Education Assistant (2). By this time none of his siblings had joined school and some had gone down many different paths – two were married, two were drug addicts and alcoholics, but the youngest three were still interested in school. Francis helped these three siblings to start school at Kanyashande primary school where he was teaching and started meeting all their school needs.
While teaching at Kanyashande primary school, Francis observed a number of children who would come to school on an empty stomach, with no book or pencil, no uniform and such kids would be dozing while conducting the lesson. The same kids would frequently be sent home due to the lack of payment for school fees, and their performance at the end of the term would often be poor regardless of how bright they were.
Having been down a similar road, Francis visited the children at their homes and witnessed a number of challenges these children and their families faced. The biggest problem was poverty. Francis had the desire to help, but as a school teacher with a meager salary and the current load of his siblings school tuition and fees, he was not in the position to be of much help to so many in need.
Considering the problems so many families faced, Francis decided to pursue a three-year bachelors degree in social work and social administration. He completed his studies and graduated as a social worker, and returned to start a program to help all the needy children in his community attend school.
In 2008 he attempted to start a children’s home, but failed due to lack of resources and support. But Francis was persistent. In 2013 he successfully registered a community-based organization in the name of Bwindi Eco Children Uganda. He was able to rent an office and a two-roomed house where he opened doors for the first 27 children to live.
To help with the children’s tuition at the local school, they formed a dancing and drumming group and visited lodges and hotels around Bwindi, entertaining tourists who were there to track the mountain gorillas in the nearby national park.
“Sometimes we could get tips/small donations, some of which we could use for feeding the children, buying school uniforms and paying small tuition for the 27 children in the nearby schools; other times we could not get enough and these children could still be sent away from school. This time I had no idea of how these children could best be helped.” Francis described.
To arouse community support, Francis hosted a community-wide meeting, inviting local leaders, church leaders, neighbors and parents. A number of contributions were given, including 2 acres of Land.
With the community support, Francis was able to start a private school where orphans and vulnerable children and other needy children from the neighborhood could receive a free education.
“In July 2013 we constructed a two-roomed shed-like building, in which one volunteer teacher and I started teaching the 27 children living in the orphanage, along with other children from the neighborhood. Since then we have gained trust from parents/guardians who have continued sending us their children. “ Francis said.
Today BECU has grown into a thriving children’s home and education center providing, support, protection and full-time residential care to 67 orphans and vulnerable children and education to 420 children. This institution currently has three care takers, 14 teachers, one vocational instructor, three cooks, and two watch men.
With donations and local contributions the institution now has electricity, water, a girls’ dormitory, eight permanent classes, and clean toilets. The children are fed on three nutritious meals daily. Opportunity: Partner With Us to Build the Boys’ Dormitory! There have not been enough funds to construct a boys’ dormitory, so they sleep in one of the classrooms.