Greetings from Uganda! It is has turned out to be a year none of us would ever have anticipated. We got off to a great start in February. Students had reported for the new school year and had quickly settled in to the school routine, the library was opened and being used for the first time, and even work had begun on the new music department. We were all full of great optimism for what 2020 had in store for us.
It wasn’t long before news of Covid began to trickle in to us, but like everyone around the world we had no sense of how bad this was going to be. I was still planning to travel home in March, and everything was going smoothly at school. At the beginning of March I could see travel was getting complicated so cancelled my trip, and tried to prepare the school for what might be coming our way. No one could believe me, but in less than three weeks all schools were closed in Uganda.
Again there was no sense of urgency, all of us expected this to be a short term thing, and we would reopen within a months time. Well within in a months time I found myself giving away a month worth of food (that was meant to take us to the end of term)that was in the store before it spoiled. As the one month became two, then three months and so forth I began to panic fearing what this was going to do to the school and the impact it would have on the staff and students. By July I found it necessary to launch an appeal for help.
The response was tremendous. I’m so grateful for the positive response I received from the many Churches, groups and individuals who have supported the school for so many years. The funds that have been sent and the funds that are on the way are going to make a great difference in the coming months and into the new year.
In October he government decided in its wisdom schools should partially open, and that finalists could return to school. This means the senior students of each section (elementary, middle school, and high school) would return and complete their school year and sit final exams. For many private schools like Bishop McAllister partial opening would be very challenging financially. The number of students returning would not cover operating costs, even with cut backs, before even considering the accumulated costs of maintaining schools while closed or the costs of implementing the SOP’s issued by the Ministry of Education. Some private schools chose to simply not open.
But thanks be to God Bishop McAllister College was not in the same position as others. Because of our unique facilities and financial support from overseas we have been able to reopen relatively smoothly. There were a couple of hectic weeks trying to put everything in place, restructuring and organizing teachers who were being called back, and helping them prepare to adjust to new working conditions and even subjects/topics they may have not been teaching prior to the schools closing.
I’m happy to report that on October 15th we successfully reopened for finalists. We were inspected a few days before to see that we had met all the new SOP’s, and we were given a certificate allowing us to open. One of the big challenges for most schools was how to meet the requirement of social distancing in classrooms. For many schools it meant taking one class and dividing it into five classes, multiply the teaching lessons and cost by the same number. But as I mentioned our facilities saved us. While I might never anticipated this, the library now houses the two classes from middle school, the dining hall the high school class, and the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist the elementary class.
It was a whole new world for students (and teachers) as they arrived at the gate.
Masks must be on before entering (and worn at all times). The next step was to have your temperature checked, then wash your hands and have your property sprayed. Throughout the school we have placed new hand washing stations at dorms, classrooms, and kitchen to encourage frequent hand washing, and signs and posters are scattered every where offering reminders of what we should be doing. Wearing our masks, washing our hands, not touching our face, and social distancing. So far we off to a good start. Staff and students will have their temperature checked on a daily basis.
The finalist program will take us up until May 3rd when the last exam will be completed (normally they are completed early December).
As for all the lower classes we don’t know what the future holds. There are hints and rumours that all students will report back to school in January. The Ministry of Education is now in the process of reinspecting schools to see how well the SOP’s were implemented and maintained. As there have been no serious problems since schools reopened in October I’m optimistic that some additional classes if not all of them will be allowed to return. The one difficulty I see would be is whether or not it is possible to maintain the SOP’s with an increased number of students present on campus.
No doubt the road ahead is long, and will be full of challenges. But I’m confident that we are prepared to meet and overcome what ever comes our way. Of course none of this would be possible without the prayers and financial support that has provided us with such wonderful facilities, and the financial support that has come in response to our appeal for assistance.
On behalf of everyone here, thank you so much for your continued love and support.
God bless! Paul