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In memory of our primary school teachers who nourished silk-cotton trees

Edited by Admin
In memory of our primary school teachers who nourished silk-cotton trees

(Photo: Kihanga Boys Primary School P1-P3 classrooms. My first classroom is on the left. Still standing. Unchanged. Photo by Muniini K. Mulera)



It is exactly sixty years since I “fluked” my way into school, for I was not supposed to start until 1960. Seeing that my mother had brought home two sets of school uniforms, I was persuaded that one was mine. Besides, my older brother, whose turn it was to embark on formal learning,  was my friend and playmate. Not even school was going to separate us. 


On the big day in January 1959, I donned “my” uniform and prepared to walk the 3 kilometres to Kihanga Boys Primary School, atop a steep hill with commanding views of Greater Mparo. Startled by my readiness, my mother attempted to thwart my plans, unimpressed by my tears of disappointment and protest. She sought help from my father, certain that a masculine rebuke would awaken me from the delusion. 


To my mother’s surprise, my father disagreed with her. “Let him go,” he said, “he will get fed up and quit school within days.” My father wrote a note to the headmaster, and sent us off to school, accompanied by Bwesigye mwene Bitariho, my cousin who was living with us while attending junior secondary school. I was duly admitted into primary one, under Nasani Murwani, a very old man to my eyes, in his early twenties, according to my parents.


Murwani was a very nice teacher. My mother recalled that I was always eager to go to school and not once did I return home with any signs of physical or emotional abuse. However, learning academic stuff was never on my agenda. My idea of school was playing. Besides a vague memory of learning the Rukiga-Runyankore alphabet and basic number counting, I do not recall anything else that I learnt in my first year of school. 


My final report card showed that I was ranked number 27 in the examinations, tied with another student, our place marked by two red horizontal lines, just below my name. So, I was the very last among those who officially passed to join primary two.


My mother, not one to sugar-coat anything, would later assure me that in fact I had failed and would have repeated primary one had it not been Murwani’s decision to smuggle me across the finish line, to let me stay with my brother. 


Presently, I moved on to primary two, under the charge of Y. Rwamayaga, a very kind man who never laid his hand on me. It was  Rwamayaga who introduced us to “Ninshoma”, a marvelous Runyankore book by Fr. Piet van Spaandonk, a Dutch Roman Catholic priest of the White Fathers. 


“Ninshoma” was a life-changing experience, its illustrated stories so alive and relevant to our lives that nothing appeared fictional about them.  Its lessons shaped our attitudes and behaviours in a manner we could not have appreciated at our young age. The reading seed was sown, a partnership between a Dutchman and a Mukiga, unaware that it would become a lifelong passion.


My sharpest memory of that period starts in primary three, not because of what I leant, but because of my unforgettable teacher. A.B. was a man with a violent temper, possessed of a most terrorising sadism. The cane was his friend. Children were his enemies.


One rainy morning, I arrived late, dripping wet and shivering. I had just walked up the steep and slippery hill to school, an explanation that did not move A.B. He beat me very hard, this time with three canes tied together, and three older boys holding me down.  After eleven strokes, I was forced to sit on my bruised bottom as he lectured to us. I remember the pain. Not what he taught. 


Primary four was worse. My teacher, N. from Kamuheesi, used brutality as a substitute for considered explanation and guidance.  He once shoved his thumb up my nose, then squeezed and twisted the cartilage, inflicting severe pain, all because I had failed every question on a test of arithmetic. “You are an idiot” he shouted, “ and you will amount to nothing!”  


Relief came with N.’s transfer to another school, his place taken over by Nuha Kakwenzire Buhaburwa, a teacher that was everything that the other two men were not. He was extremely kind and gentle, obviously loved children and took time to explain concepts. He gave us a test in arithmetic and awarded me 100 percent correct. My mother told me years later that she was sure Buhaburwa had overmarked me as a therapeutic measure. She was probably right. The gentleman was a psychotherapist! 


Buhaburwa turned on a switch, igniting a love of learning, that changed my trajectory and still burns today. Had I continued to “learn” under the terrorist-teachers, I would have probably dropped out in primary six, a most consequential fate. How many of our contemporaries, brighter boys and girls than me, had a truncated education because of the cane and the ridicule that teachers used to devastating effect?


By the time I joined Kigezi High School Primary, which we called Lower School, I was in primary five and very much in love with learning. My best teacher was Francis Kasigazi, a man that was well ahead of his time. He encouraged us to ask questions, even to challenge the truth of what he was teaching. We were his friends and he made learning fun. Not once did I see him lay a hand on a student.


Next to parents, primary school teachers are the most important determinants of a child’s course in life. Children remember who taught them right and who terrorized them. Many studies have shown that corporal punishment does not teach children anything except violence. Beating children is damaging, and has no redeeming benefit. It belongs in the distant past.


The teacher who sees potential in every child and patiently nourishes the seed, invests very well. One is reminded of the words of the hunter who foretold the birth of Sundiata, the great thirteenth century emperor of Mali, as passed on to us by the Griot Mamoudou Kouyate: “Oh king, the world is full of mystery, all is hidden and we know nothing but what we can see. The silk-cotton tree springs from a tiny seed – that which defies the tempest weighs in its germ no more than a grain of rice. Oh, who can recognize in the little child the great king to come? The great comes from the small; truth and falsehood have both suckled at the same breast. Nothing is certain.” 


May the children of Murwani, Rwamayaga, Buhaburwa and Kasigazi receive this as my song of gratitude, in memory of their blessed parents who nourished many silk-cotton trees. 





Level 1 (XP: 50)
4 years ago
Clearly the concept of being in "loco parentis" with regards to treating children with care and respect, is one that was never part of the sadistic teachers modus operandi. Stories of children murdered by their teachers emerge in the national papers from time to time. Violent and sociopathic individuals masquearading as teachers continue to slip through the filter and end up in a milieu where their tendencies are given free rein to assault the weak and vulnerable. Abuse of power manifests in so many ways and teachers assaulting children are typical cowards who quite possibly would cower in a corner when faced with someone their size and temper. Thank God such teachers are in a tiny minority and the vast majority do a sterling job. l recall our secondary school teachers. The worst punishment l ever got was to spend the morning writing 'reds' at the headmaster's home. His wife kept me well supplied with drinks and biscuits. The humiliation of the exercise was enough. The positive outcome was that it improved my handwriting immeasurably. lt remains legible even to my deteriorating sight. My respect for those teachers knows no bounds.

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