One of the great things about traveling is meeting people around the world. Sometimes, you also have the chance to help the local communities. When I traveled to Uganda, I had the privilege of meeting Edison from Kyabahinga Village and achieving both things at the same time.
East Africa is a land of contrasts, as cliche as it might sound. You can find incredibly wealthy people in the big cities and people living off the land just a few kilometers away in the countryside. During my visit to Uganda, I met Edison, who took it upon himself to help his local community and take it out of poverty by focusing mainly on education. With his Lake Bunyonyi Community Project, he is, slowly but surely, sending hundreds of children to school. So I’m more than happy to share his story with all of you.
What is your name?
My name is Edison, from the Lake Bunyonyi Community Project, in the Kyabahinga Village.
Could you tell us about your project?
Here in the village, people are very poor. They don’t have jobs, and many don’t have an education. When I grew up, I didn’t get enough education, I didn’t go to school because my parents had no money. Later in life, I made a friend from town that helped me. My English was very literal, very basic, but he still took me to town and trained me to speak English. After that, I decided to come back here and help the children, help them with their education.
Why did you decide to focus on education?
When I was in town, I learned English and stayed with families there, eating, drinking, sleeping. Then I went back to the village, and everyone was so poor. I met a lot of people, tourists, and some of my friends from town. They all told me that it’s all the luck of having an education. This is why I thought of giving children an education.
So this is why you decided to help children.
Yes. I’m almost 50 now, I’m old. I help to help the young ones, not me or the people my age. I’m not looking at myself, I’m looking at the children’s future, that’s why I’m trying to help them. I want to push away the lack of education. That’s why I think everyone is poor.
How do you help the children here?
I started buying some land and built basic infrastructure to help them. Then, with donations from groups that come here, I pay the children’s school fees. We also teach them skills.
Do children have to pay fees to go to school?
They don’t have to pay for school, but for high school they do, yes.
And how much can it be?
They have to pay Ugandan shillings equivalent to 300$ US. With that money, they can pay for the boarding school. There are no high schools near here, they have to go to Kabale town, which is eight kilometers from here. The fees pay for everything: schooling, uniform, food, and everything else.
Do they have to go to a boarding school?
Yes, there are no high schools in the village. There are some in Kabale town, another one in Mbarara, and some in other districts, but not in the village. So the kids need to stay there when they go to high school.
For how long do they stay?
They go there for three months, then back to the village for two weeks. Then they go back for three months, back for two weeks again, etc. One term is twelve months.
You mentioned you also teach the children skills.
Yes, we do. Handcrafts, mechanics, carpentry, tailoring… skills that can help them in life and to get a job.
Do some of the kids go to University?
Yes, after high school, they go to University. At this time, we have six children, four boys, and two girls. They will join University next year. We have people studying engineering, and we have one lawyer too. They go to Kampala.
Do you use the money exclusively for the school fees?
We always pay for education, that’s the most important. But sometimes, we also help the locals. We pay school fees first, and when we have extra money, we help people from the village. In case they need a water tank, or if a family doesn’t have a goat or a sheep, we can buy it. If a family doesn’t have food, we can buy it.
What does the local community do here?
People here don’t have jobs. They are only depending on a small plot of land. And the food they plant is just for eating, they don’t have any income. When I started this project, some people had nothing, very, very poor. But now they have houses, they have mattresses, they have beds, and we are building good houses for the locals. And children are getting an education, I think that will help them.
Is there a primary school here in the village?
Yeah, they start with nursery school. Then they go to primary school for seven grades, and then they go to secondary school. Then high school, and then University, maybe when they are 20 or 25.
Do they start University when they are already 25?
Yeah, because many, they start primary when they are old. Some start at eight or even ten years old. You can find some people, some children with nothing: no books, no pens, no uniforms, no clothes. So I have to buy clothes, then pens and pencils, books… Then soap and food, and I need to do a lot of persuading. Telling them you go to school, you go to school.
Do you also have to convince the children to go to school?
Yes, especially the parents. Sometimes you tell them their children should go to school, and they say: what is the school, why should they go, what do you mean?
So you have to also convince the parents.
Sometimes parents don’t want their children to go to school, so you have to go there and persuade them. They don’t know education, they don’t know what it means. Because they have survived for years and years with no education, so you can’t tell them. They lose their children because then the children can’t help with the work.
Do donations also help those children?
Yes, because they help persuade the parents. If I can pay for the books, for the uniform, for the soap, then maybe they will let me take the children to school. But it’s very difficult.
Where do you get the donations from?
There are tourists coming here to Lake Bunyonyi that help. We maybe get some money there. This is what I want to expand in the future. My idea is that I can buy land and make a building where tourists can come and have food for free. We just show the village, show the school, and the children. And then they can donate if they feel like it. I don’t want to charge money, I want to show them the village, feed them, and let them decide. And people from the village can help, maybe they give us the food, and help.
Do you have any other source of income?
We have a sponsorship program. They send money every year to sponsor a child, they pay for the fees, 300$. We have a few sponsors, they are very, very good. They are doing well, from countries like Australia, Canada, and the UK. Some send more money, 600$, 1000$… so they help many children, not just one.
We have some people in Europe, in America… they try to raise some money for us too. I’m very thankful, it’s good, very good, we appreciate them for that. If we can get from friends like them, the whole community can get an education, which is very, very good.
So how do you receive the money?
Some people donate directly to our account, some use Western Union, and we have a bank account for the project. There are many ways of receiving money, but sometimes it’s hard because we are not registered as a charity yet.
Are you planning on registering as one?
Yes, for that, one of my boys is helping. He is a lawyer, and he’s helping in Kampala, so we get one, hopefully very soon. Because I cannot do it myself, it needs very good English, and to fill papers, go to Kampala, then you need lawyers in Uganda. You need a lot of time and money, you need to know. It’s not easy.
I hope you manage to do so! Is there anything else you would like to say?
I always thank my friends in Europe and overseas. I don’t remember all their names at this time. They have helped us very well, and we appreciate it. We think, if possible, we can continue and get education for the children. That is the most important. Thank you.
Thank you very much for your hard work, Edison!
Edison is one of the most generous, friendly, and hard-working people I have ever met. His passion for his community is evident the moment you start talking to him. I hope it came across that way in this interview!
For anyone interesting in helping him, you can contact the Lake Bunyonyi Community Project Facebook page or even contact Edison directly on Facebook. He is always happy to talk to those interested in helping the community.
If you are interested in more interviews with locals, make sure to check others like:
- Meet the Locals: Julijus, Border Control of the Republic of Uzupis
- Meet the Locals: Ricardo from Monteverde, Costa Rica
- Meet the Locals: Juan from Medellin, Colombia
Or just go to our meet the locals section.
Until your next adventure!