Uganda’s Project Shelter Wakadogo has been awarded the ‘World’s Best Prize for Overcoming Adversity’, a prize of 50,000 USD (191 million UGX). Wakadogo beat out South Africa’s Pinelands North Primary School and Brazil’s Escola Evandro Ferreira Dos Santos in the Top 3 finalists.
The prize aims to give global recognition to schools that ‘support and develop children in the kinds of socio-emotional skills to ensure their personal growth and of the school as a community’, in spite of challenges and roadblocks they face.
The win was well-deserved for Project Shelter Wakadogo, a school in Gulu, Uganda, which was founded in the wake of the Ugandan civil war and now educates over 450 pupils, with one of the highest retention rates in the country. Locals took it upon themselves to use education to foster the community’s recovery by starting the school – with just two classrooms – in 2009. They acquired land, levelled the roads to the schools, and planted vegetables to use for school meals.
Since then, Wakadogo – meaning ‘for the little ones’ in Swahili – has served as a second home for many of the local children, providing free meals, healthcare and sports and music programmes in addition to the quality education. The school is entirely funded by donations from the community.
The COVID-19 pandemic came with its fresh set of challenges as Uganda experienced one of the world’s longest lockdowns. Where others resorted to online schooling, it wasn’t an option for Wakadogo as less than 9% of the rural community has access to the internet and only 2% have personal computers.
Nonetheless, the teachers of Wakadogo rose to the challenge, using unprecedented methods in unprecedented times. They would move from door to door to teach students in small groups, so that learning could go uninterrupted. Consequently, the students actually came out at the other side of the pandemic academically improved, unlike students from other schools.
“This community is so resilient. When there are problems, we come together. We discuss the way forward, and we find a solution,” said Odong Charles Kigundi, Head Teacher of Project Shelter Wakadogo.
The school conducted a total of 36,000 home-schooling lessons during the pandemic. These were necessary as a way to curb the resultant rise in child labour, teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence.
Now with the hefty prize money, the school plans to build a computer lab with 50 laptops and 50 tablets, and solar technology to power them. These will help them set up an online learning platform, should schools be forced to close again. The lab will also be open to surrounding schools, families and members of the community to use outside of school hours. The prize will also enable Wakadogo to provide more scholarships for underprivileged kids in the community.
The Overcoming Adversity prize was just one of five categories in the inaugural ‘World’s Best School Prizes’, which awarded a total of 250,000 USD to schools which have been able to form leading and innovative practices that significantly impact the lives of their students and communities for the better. Other prize winners were from Scotland, Chile, Philippines and the United States.
Scotland’s Dunoon Grammar School won the ‘Community Collaboration’ prize for its skill-based courses in areas such as travel and tourism, design and maritime studies.
Chile’s Escuela Emilia Lascar won the ‘Innovation’ prize for its ‘Emilia TV’ programme which addressed pressing societal issues, including mental health and gender identity.
Philippines’ Bonuan Buquiq National High School won the ‘Environmental Action’ prize for its efforts to rehabilitate lost mangroves and provide new habitats for fish.
The US’s Curie Metropolitan High School won the ‘Supporting Healthy Lives’ prize for providing an arts programme and integrated health services for students, many of which were from minorities.
The awards were created by T4 Education – a London-based global organisation which was formed during the pandemic – in order to catalyse system-level improvement in education and inspire change on a global scale.
Sources: Watchdog News, Reuters.