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Tiny Bermuda charity makes a big impact on Ugandan school

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Rose and Dominic Mukwaya with Kaaso supporters Jennie Lee O’Donnell, Rebecca Roberts and Emma Outterridge in front of the school’s new hall (Photograph supplied)

The celebrations at the opening of a hall and latrine at St Paul Kaaso Primary would likely have been considered over the top for a Bermuda school.

More than a thousand people made the journey into Kabira, a tiny village in Kyotera, Uganda, for the occasion. There was dancing, drumming and a feast; hundreds of children with massive smiles gave performances in elaborate costumes.

“The opening was important because they wanted to make a statement to their local community that they have been able to take the project from budget to completion,” said Jennie O'Donnell, the chair of KatKids, a Bermuda charity that gave $63,345 towards the project.

“This is an incredibly rural, poor, neglected area. And for them to have this large hall … they don't have two-storey buildings in this area. So for this tiny school to be deemed worthy and trustworthy and respectful enough to have this investment in it, was huge.”

The project follows the work of former Bermuda resident Emma Outteridge. In 2009 she committed to a lifelong partnership with Kabira Adult Attention and School for Orphans and, with the help of Bermuda residents, donated a school bus in 2016 and funded a water collection system the following year.

KatKids was formed in 2014 with a mission to raise money for projects which “help children in need of food, shelter, healthcare or education in Nepal, Africa and Bermuda”.

Kaaso’s hall serves as a gathering spot for the school’s 707 students and 57 staff members and gives additional classroom and office space.

“KatKids is proud of their relationships with their grassroots projects because we’re tiny,” Ms O’Donnell said. “We give less than $80,000 a year in total, but we try to make a real difference in terms of finding projects that have real roots within their community; finding people who are really creative at working with the small amounts of money that we give and making huge impacts. So that's why we were very pleased to make that relationship with Emma Outteridge while she was living here.

Children at Kaaso school celebrate the opening of a new hall donated by KatKids Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

“The first step was the bus back in 2016 – that was a dream they had for five, ten years and they never thought it would come to reality. When I spoke to Emma Outteridge about the bus it was big, very big, but the hall was a game-changer.”

Local politicians are now using St Paul Kaaso as an example of what is possible in a tiny, rural community such as Kabira, she added.

“[It’s] putting a goal for all small schools like them to move forward and be a real force in terms of education. In Uganda, school isn’t free. There is an incredible load of orphans and people who cannot pay the school fees for their children.”

Ms O’Donnell travelled to Uganda for the official opening on October 2 with KatKids director Rebecca Roberts.

Jennie Lee O’Donnell, Rebecca Roberts and Emma Outteridge at the opening of the hall donated by KatKids Bermuda to Kaaso, a school in Uganda (Photograph supplied)

“To be welcomed by hundreds of students smiling, singing, dancing and drumming is very moving and overwhelming,” said Ms Roberts, who also visited the school for the donation of the bus and the water system.

First-time visitor Ms O’Donnell added: “The whole school and community is so rightly proud of their newly constructed hall, which is large and impressive. It was humbling to look up and see the KatKids Main Hall name and the logo of our small, home-grown Bermuda charity.”

KatKids is run completely by volunteers and has enjoyed tremendous support from RenaissanceRe.

“I really do want to recognise Rebecca's role in this because she’s a KatKids director, but she has really led the charge in terms of fundraising and development of our partnership with Kaaso. She works at RenRe and RenRe were an early and strong supporter of KatKids.”

Ms Roberts first got RenRe involved with Kaaos, and then KatKids.

Rebecca Roberts with students at Kaaso (Photograph supplied)

“KatKids has come on to the scene later, we’ve been more involved in the building. We've done all the building that’s new at that site since 2019.”

Rose and Dominic Mukwaya opened Kaaso in 1999. Their idea was to create “a great school” where fee-paying students would cover the cost of children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. A big problem was the “raging” Aids epidemic which continues to orphan many of the young people there.

“Of the 700, I would say approximately a third do not pay anything for their board at all so they have to really be vigilant in terms of getting all the support that they can just to keep the school running. And it's not enough to just support them and live there, they have to be excellent so that they attract [fee-paying] students,” Ms O’Donnell said.

“It's kind of a crass economic outlook but it's really important that they have a big hall, to have an opening and have that recognition; to have the parents come and be proud.”

The school was able to raise $5,000 towards the hall.

“It seems small but it was definitely widow's mite. They're definitely giving all they can – some parents pay with crops and cornmeal to support the kids' diet. They barter anything they can to support their children and anybody who's volunteered at Kaaso becomes part of their family.

“So [the celebrations] represented not just KatKids but this deep entrenchment of support within their community. And that's why us going to the opening, having people [within Uganda] travel to them to see what we've done, that’s why this huge celebration [was important].”

Students at Kaaso school (Photograph supplied)

She described it as “really humbling” to see the impact the donation had on the Kaaso community.

“We don't have any costs outside of banking fees and compliance fees … everybody just chips in. And all the support we've had from all our donors from all our years, we pull together this money and we go to this community in Uganda, and it's just a huge impact. That kind of hope, that kind of help, is really humbling and really amazing. And I think it's something that Bermuda should be really proud of.”

For more information visit www.katkids.com

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Published November 10, 2022 at 8:04 am (Updated November 10, 2022 at 8:04 am)

Tiny Bermuda charity makes a big impact on Ugandan school

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