Our visit to KAASO! 😀

We hope you are doing well. This newsletter is written by Lizzie. She and her boyfriend, Rob, have recently spent a week at KAASO visiting the projects supported by Unity is Strength and discussing future plans with the founders and Directors of KAASO, Dominic and Rose Mukwaya. We hope you enjoy the read. 

Our visit to KAASO – March 2023

It’s hard to know where to begin with this newsletter. Rob and I arrived home from Uganda last Sunday evening. It was an incredible few days – we learned so much and have come back with lots of updates to share with you! It definitely felt like a month in a week. 

Income-generating projects – The background

For as long as I have known KAASO, there have always been projects running alongside the school to subsidise its running costs and help support the ever-growing number of students. While teachers have always used the projects as part of their lessons to bring learning to life, they were mainly run by Dominic and Rose with support from farm workers.

When COVID hit and KAASO closed, Dominic had the brilliant idea to expand these projects and give the staff members the opportunity to get involved and earn some money while their teaching salaries stopped. This initiative started with a focus on generating income for those out of work, but it brought many additional benefits. The staff enjoyed working together, they were grateful to learn new skills in agriculture and financial management, and it gave them a sense of purpose and motivation at an incredibly difficult time. 

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, Unity is Strength was able to provide funds to set up these projects. We’ve been delighted to share updates with you about this work over the last couple of years.

Seeing these projects in-person and hearing about how they helped KAASO to open again after COVID was absolutely fantastic. What’s more is they are now a core part of working at KAASO. The impact has been immense. Here’s how you’ve helped.

The brick-making project

The brick-making project is one of the first projects we funded. In July 2021, we sent funds for its establishment and initial running costs (labour and firewood). Due to the early success of the project, Dominic was able to buy, rather than rent, the land for it. This new land is on clay, which is perfect for brick-making. Furthermore, owning the land reduces the project’s fixed costs and gives greater security for its longevity.

Here’s a clip of Dominic at the brick-making site:

Dominic talks about the brick-making project (March 2023)

Bricks from the site are either sold through local markets or used for construction at KAASO. As Dominic mentions in the video, some of the bricks were used to build a platform for the water tank recently installed for the Teachers’ Quarters at KAASO with funds from Unity is Strength. 

Dominic and Lizzie - Water tank

Left: Bricks taken from the brick-making project; Right: Water tank installed at KAASO on brick platform

There are several groups of teachers and staff members now involved in the brick-making project. We had the pleasure of talking to Nurse Shiba, Teacher Annette and Teacher Sarah about why they are involved.

Nurse Shiba, Teacher Annette and Teacher Sarah talk about why they joined the brick-making project

The chairs

For a long time, Dominic has wanted to run a chair business as an extra income stream for the school. Earlier in the year, we sent a donation to enable KAASO to buy 1,000 chairs. In Uganda’s dry seasons (June-August and December-February), there are community events happening nearly every weekend and there’s always a need for chairs, so they should have a good market. 

The chairs have all been labelled and numbered, and a Hire Agreement is used for each customer. We can’t wait for the summer to see how this help provide additional income for KAASO. 

In the wet seasons, the chairs come in handy at KAASO in their new main hall. The week we were there was ‘Prefect Campaigns’ week. There were 30 posts they could run for including Head Boy, Head Girl, Timekeeper, Health and Sanitation, Water Prefect, and many more! Posters were put up around the school with campaign slogans and striking photos, and those in the running had the opportunity to explain to their peers why they should vote for them. Here’s a short clip of one student’s speech: 

Prefect elections at KAASO

Nursery-bed & piggery

The nursery-bed is performing well and the piggery is getting back on its feet after the devastating effects of African Swine Fever that affected much of southern Uganda last year. Over messages and phone calls, I hadn’t fully appreciated the distress this had caused KAASO and the local community. KAASO has kept pigs since 2006 and has never had any problems.

The expansion of the piggery project in 2021 was set to make it the most profitable of all the enterprises – a real lifeline for KAASO. The pigs had all been named and Dominic spoke of the 4ft-long boar with great pride. It was hard to hear that after the pigs were lost, the staff were using the projects ‘for survival’. And it was such a waste as none of these animals were allowed to enter the food chain. We were so sorry for this loss but blown away by their resilience to keep going. The piggery project is slowly being rebuilt and measures have been put in place to mitigate the risk of a disease affecting them again. 

Both the piggery project and the nursery-bed are regularly used in teaching to give students skills to earn money before going to secondary school, as well as to share with their families. Teacher Enoch talks about this in the video below. 

Teacher Enoch talks about the nursery-bed and piggery in teaching

Circular farming at KAASO

Visiting KAASO with Rob, a trained ecologist and cattle farmer in the UK, gave me a whole new appreciation for just how remarkable this school and community are. I hadn’t take the time to properly understand their farming systems before, but when you stop and look, everything is interconnected and nothing is wasted.

Rob thought this was fascinating and was keen to capture it in the short time we had. We put together a few short clips to show the thought and ingenuity that has gone into the design of these systems. 

KAASO rabbit project

Here are videos of the piggery projectgoat project, and cow project too. 

Micro-loan intiative

In our last couple of newsletters, we mentioned a new project that has been started by the teachers and staff members at KAASO following the establishment of the income-generating projects. It is called the KAASO Staff Development Association (or KAASO-Dep for short) and it will issue microloans to individuals and groups working on these projects.

Individuals or groups will be required to submit an application to the KAASO-Dep committee outlining what their project is, why they want to run it, and a breakdown of the costs. The committee, chaired by the wonderful Nurse Shiba, will review the applications and decide which projects are granted loans. Each loan will have a specified pay-back window with a small interest rate to ensure the initiative is sustainable, and loanees must have three guarantors in case they are unable to pay. As the loan is repaid, this money can then be awarded to another project, and so on. 

We are delighted to see this initiative take shape. We, as an organisation, are reluctant to fund the maintenance costs of the projects and/or the school unless absolutely necessary as we never want to create a dependency on our fundraising. We are always working with the idea that if Unity is Strength stopped operating tomorrow, KAASO would not be negatively affected in any way. 

To support the loan initiative, we agreed with Dominic and Rose to put just over £3,000 towards it. The total value of applications submitted so far is already over this, but we thought it would be a good start.

Lizzie and Shiba discussing the loan applications

Lizzie and Nurse Shiba discussing the loan applications received so far

KAASO-Dep will be a brilliant way to develop the income-generating projects sustainably. Ideas for the loans so far include a cover for the bricks to protect them from the rain, a more robust watering system for the nursery-bed, and tents to hire alongside the chairs.

We look forward to contributing to the micro-loan initiative and seeing that money come back to support other projects time and time again. 

KAASO and Northbourne Park School

A couple of weeks before we left for Uganda, Northbourne Park School (who has an educational partnership with KAASO) hosted an ‘Eco-Week’ focussing on bees, their importance for us and the threats they are facing. Students at Northbourne wrote letters, poems and created artwork all centering around this theme for the students at KAASO.

It was amazing to share this with them during our visit and collect responses from the KAASO students. Northbourne Park has also sponsored the rabbit project, so they look forward to hearing more about how that works and whether the rabbits will be kept as pets…or not…!

Primary Four students with letters from Northbourne Park School

Teacher Prossy’s class with letters and a banner from Northbourne Park School

KAASO Coffee

On land that KAASO owns, they can establish longer-term projects such as coffee gardens. Where they rent land, this is not possible as the owner only allows annual crops to be grown.

Coffee is a good source of income in Uganda and Dominic would like to do this across more land in future if there are opportunities to buy that are suitable for KAASO. The following video explains why this is so important. 

Dominic at KAASO’s coffee plantation

Fun at KAASO!

As well as catching up with all the projects and talking about future plans, we had loads of fun at KAASO! Rob kindly brought some rugby balls over and did a training session with the students in touch rugby. Both the students and teachers were really excited by this as they don’t currently play rugby. Sport is a huge part of KAASO and they are keen to develop this wherever they can. 

A few years ago they introduced handball and now have the top player in the country! So watch this space for touch rugby in the future…

Rob presenting rugby balls to students in assembly
Rugby training session at KAASO with Rob

Thank you!

Without you, none of the above would be possible. Thank you for your generosity and continued support. Webale nnyo nnyo nnyo! (Thank you very very very much in Luganda 🙂)

Here’s a message from Dominic and Rose to close out: 

Thank you from Dominic and Rose