Patrick Serugo remembers quite well how Mulawa, a neighbourhood off the Bulindo road in Kira municipality, looked like just over 10 years ago. It was deserted.
“People were building houses but they were not finishing them. Those who finished building houses did not want to stay here. They would finish the house and go back and rent,” he remembers as we sat in the headmaster’s office at St Patrick primary school in Mulawa.
By then, Serugo, the proprietor of the school, had already settled in the area with his family. A dusty road from Mulawa all the way to the more developed Kiwatule area – a more-than-six-kilometer stretch - and the sparsely populated neighbourhood compared to other upcoming suburbs in Kampala convinced Serugo that he needed to do something.
With four acres at his disposal, he had enough land to build something that had an impact.
“I had started constructing a house here,” Serugo says, “but then Shimoni (primary school and the teachers college) also started building in the area,” he said.
“So, I said if Shimoni is coming here, why don’t I also have another school here to make this area an education hub.”
It was at that point that the idea of St Patrick primary school was conceived. This was around 2009. The plan? To put up a $3 million education facility!
St Patrick primary school is located towards the south of Mulawa. It takes about two kilometers from the main road through sprouting modern houses and some bit of lush green to get to the school. The school has both a nursery and primary section.
A strong attachment to all things environment is one of the first features that one notices at the school. Obviously, the first poster that hits you, right outside the gate, is one that speaks loudly of the standard operating procedures against the spread of the coronavirus, especially the wearing of masks and washing of hands.
To St Patrick primary school, health and safety are at the core of the school’s operations. According to Serugo, the school has more than 100 toilets at the moment. With a school population of 200 before the lockdown against Covid-19, it means that is a ratio of two pupils per toilet – an envy of many schools in the school.
The school uses whiteboards, and not blackboards, for all its classes.
“We didn’t want the dust from the chalk to affect any of our children,” Serugo said.
The chairs and tables are also plastic and can be recycled. Each class has a capacity to accommodate 60 children but the school has agreed to cap the numbers between 35 and 40.
Serugo says their target is to have 700 children in the boarding section, and a couple more in the day section. He said they would have more children but the effects of Covid-19 have slowed down their recruitment processes.
“Our school is an open book. We want to create an environment where parents can visit their children any time they feel like,” Serugo said, adding that parents looking for placement of their children in the primary section are welcome to apply.
The school will this week achieve a major milestone: the first primary seven candidates will sit for their final exams. A Catholic priest from the Namugongo basilica came and said mass for the children.
“Although I am Catholic, we have modeled our values around Christian teachings. We know we have different faiths in the school, and we are mindful of that,” Serugo said.
St Patrick does not just focus on education; they pay closer attention to co-curricular activities too. The school has music classes.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a music studio. We are in the process of procuring equipment where the children can learn how to use this equipment, and also record songs,” Serugo said.
The school has a standard 25-metre swimming pool, a rare infrastructure for most schools in the country. In 2019, the school participated in the Uganda national independence schools swimming gala, the most competitive swimming event for schools in the country.
So, five years down the road, how has the journey been for Serugo and St Patrick primary school? Has he recovered his money?
“We are not meeting our business target. For me, this is still an investment. I am yet to recover any money,” said the supply chain specialist who works with the United Nations.
“What I am proud of is the impact the school has on the community,” he added.
Serugo believes the school has been critical in partly attracting more people into the neighbourhood. Parents do not have to wake up at ungodly hours to drag children through Kampala’s mad traffic in order to access schools. In St Patrick, many parents have been relieved of this burden.
Mulawa, on the other hand, has grown exponentially, with not just homes cropping up, but also businesses and other social amenities. Land prices have shot through the roof in the process. There are very high chances St Patrick has contributed towards that development.
The local community has also benefitted from the school in that when there is a need to hold village meetings, they use one of the rooms free of charge.
The swimming pool is also open to the public. People in Mulawa or the surrounding areas do not have to drive all the way to Kampala to access a standard 25-metre pool (the nearest being in Bukoto and Naguru).
For a subsidized fee, they can use the St Patrick swimming pool. At least two swim clubs affiliated to the Uganda Swimming Federation use St Patrick for training.
Also, on Sundays, outsiders can use the school’s football pitch after paying what Serugo says is a small fee, which is used for maintenance. Serugo says they are in the process of building a basketball court before the end of this year.
“I am looking for someone to give me the best design plan for the court.”
Looking ahead, Serugo intends to spend more, especially on putting up more classrooms and dormitories. He said they want to explore cleaner renewable energies such as solar.
Serugo says they have grand plans. “Our vision is big. It is not a small one. We want to leave a big impact.”