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Back to School with a Visit to See Education Finance in Action in Uganda

By Mark Lutz

Children and teachers at Kampala’s Rise and Shine School.As we head back to school in the U.S., we’re thinking a lot about our educational loan clients and school proprietors around the world, and the impoverished children who are receiving an education because of them. Here, staff member Mark shares what he learned about education finance on his recent visit to a primary school in Kampala, Uganda.

The students perform songs for their visitors.On this trip, we’ve learned that 50 percent of Uganda’s population is 15 years old or younger. That’s a lot of children to educate. Law requires that all children complete primary school, but the government has not been able to keep up with the demand. The public schools typically have large class sizes, poor facilities and often ill-prepared teachers. Further, the schools are typically located where the population is most dense, requiring many children living in rural villages to walk one or even two hours to school.

As a result the government has sanctioned and encouraged small private schools, run in the immediate communities where the children live. These are not we in the U.S. envision when we think of private education. Though these schools’ facilities may be pretty basic, the children often receive a far superior education than those attending public schools. By funding the expansion of these small private schools with microfinance loans, Opportunity gets a double whammy. Not only do we make small business loans to school proprietors who operate self-sustaining enterprises, but more children get the opportunity to receive an education. Because of this extra value, and because of the number of people that these schools employ, Opportunity knows how important it is to make loans to these school proprietors.

In the classroom at Rise and Shine.Before going into the field to see the schools, our group of travelers visited the Opportunity Uganda bank in the morning for an orientation on education finance. The director of this initiative, Freda, explained that we made our first two school proprietor loans in 2008, each for about $13,000. This year we have more than 100 schools, receiving a total of $2.2 million in loans.

After the orientation we visited the Rise and Shine kindergarten and primary school. Dorothy met us at the front gate with an infectious smile and hugs for everyone. She is the school’s proud director and co-founder. In 2000, when her mother died, Dorothy converted the family home into a school for seven children, using her life savings of $250 to get it started. Later that year she borrowed $150 from Opportunity International. Successive loans have been for $200, $250 , $2,500 and most recently $4,000. With these funds she has partitioned and equipped classrooms, built a fence, and constructed toilets and running water. Today she has a team of nine teachers and 150 students, including more than 30 refugees from Sudan, Somalia and the DR Congo.

For the next half hour, the students entertained our group by singing songs they had written for “the visitors.” We so enjoyed meeting these children and seeing their school, inspired by young students who one day may be Africa’s future leaders.

Mark Lutz is Opportunity’s senior VP of global philanthropy. He recently returned from a week-long Insight Trip to Rwanda and Uganda with a number of Opportunity supporters and staff to see firsthand the impact of our Banking on Africa campaign.

Stay tuned to the Opportunity Blog for more from the Banking on Africa travelers.

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