By Titus Kakembo
It is that time of the year again. Thousands of pupils and students wake up trembling, sweating and afraid to go to school. The problem - bullying. The victims are worried about what package awaits them.
Unfortunately, their parents, siblings, teachers and other adults do not see or understand the esteem-damaging practice.
Bullying has many aspects, but the dictionary defines it as when a person is picked on over and over again by an individual or group with more power.
This may be in terms of physical strength or social standing.
For decades, the bullies in Uganda used the obukalabanda myth to camouflage their activities. These are the notorious pair of wooden flip flop footsteps heard in the night mostly in boarding schools. The mysterious kakalabanda picks on one pupil in the dormitory on a given night. Dormitory occupants have to shut their eyes or risk either death or a thorough beating.
After the infamous kakalabanda visit, when dormitory residents wake up, very often, dry rations comprising roasted ground nuts, biscuits and juices are missing. Nobody dares report to the administration or they risk the wrath of ‘spiritual powers’.
Different schools have different bullying habits. Former minister Paul Etyang was not spared the dreaded treat when he was admitted to Ngora High School.
“Go under my bed and get rid of the creaking sound,” recounts Etyang. This was at a time when metallic spring beds were all the rage.
“You risked a beating if the creaking noise did not stop disturbing the bully’s sleep,” he remembers. Etyang also remembers days when the bullies would order a victim to sing and dance. Others ate a new student’s grub.
Besides the light versions of bullying, fatalities have been reported in some schools, prompting the administration to caution those admitted about risking termination of their studies if found bullying.
The causes of bullying according to a counsellor, Ann Tweheyo, are numerous, but they can be grouped into mainly two.
“One may be bullied because of their appearance or their social status. Secondly, most bullies pick on the people they think do not fit in the lot,” she explains, adding that, “In the multi-cultural society we have today, one’s appearance, how they act (shy or withdrawn), their tribe, or religion can be the cause of the bullying.”
Lately, bullying styles have transformed to suit technological advancements. There are numerous ways victims are harassed besides being attacked physically such as being shoved, tripped, punched, hit or even sexually assaulted.
How being bullied feels
Victims of bullying reveal that it is ruthless. Some victims have suffered numerous episodes ranging from; teasing, name calling or being shunned.
Hamida Sanyu recounts that, “When it went on and on, it put me in a state of constant fear and suffering hallucinations. My academic performance declined and I lost interest in school. So I do not want my child to suffer the same.”
Another parent, Rita Najjemba, says, “My daughter began having stomach irritations and she was diagnosed with an irritable bowel syndrome.
It was later found that it was a result of being bullied in class by a girl from Sudan. Adding that, “The little girl threatened to commit suicide, and even hid to avoid going to school.”
In a related incident, Najjemba’s daughter’s friend, Bridget, spent her afternoons hungry and unable to concentrate in class because she was too afraid to go to the school dining hall. Victims of bullying are at risk of suffering mental health problems such as low self-esteem, stress, depression and anxiety.
Worse still, the bullies are at risk too. Bullying leads to more violent behaviour as the bully grows up. One out of four primary/secondary school bullies will have a criminal record by the time they turn 30. Some teen bullies end up being rejected by their peers, lose friends and acceptance as they grow older. Bullies may also fail in school and not have the career or relationship success that other people enjoy.
How to handle bullies
Ignoring— Walking away works wonders. It is taken by some people as a coward’s response, but it works more wonders than losing your temper. Counsellor Jean Kakembo says bullies thrive on the reaction they get from their victims.
“If you walk away, ignore abusive emails and negative SMS messages, you are indirectly telling the bully that you just do not care. Soon the bully gets bored with trying to bother you.” She says the trick is to walk tall and hold your head high with pride. It shows you are not vulnerable.
Stay calm— Martial artists are taught the discipline of not getting angry. “To beat any bully, the trick is to avoid losing your temper,” says Joseph Serugo, a trainer in Luzira. “Because that is exactly the response the bully is trying to get, they want to know they have control over your emotions.”
Talk — Talking about the experience helps. “We have what we call school parents assigned to each child. It helps to talk to them, a class teacher or good friend — anyone who can give you the support you need. Talking can be a good outlet for the fears and frustrations that can build when you are bullied,” says Nassanga, a teacher at Kireka Parents School.
Looking at bullying generally, aggressive responses tend to lead to more violence and more bullying for the victims. All it takes is a pinch of confidence. The trick is to do things that build up your self-esteem.
Bryan Mackenze— The S2s were the problem
In S1, we were each ordered to tell a 15-minute story about the first time we had sex. I was a virgin so forging a story was hard. As if that was not enough, I was supposed to tell it in my mother tongue with no detail spared. If you failed, you would be beaten up by your fellow S1s and have water poured on your bed for the whole first week. Many of us were successful but some got the punishment. They also used to make us dance with our pillows to the news on Radio Uganda. It was painful but it made many of us eager for the next year to revenge on the S1s.
Sarah- a prefect made my life hell
S1 and two were a nightmare for me. I was the tallest and darkest person in class and the other students made fun of me. There was this one prefect, a short boy in S4, who made my life a living hell. During assembly, he would hit my legs, telling me to kneel down so I could be the same height as the rest of the class — prefects were untouchable. In my S3, I finally convinced my dad to allow me to change school.
TIMOTHY — BULLIED BY MY OWN BROTHER
In my S1, the older boys asked me if I had sisters. We are only boys at home, but I knew that answer wasn’t what they wanted to hear so I lied and said that I had an older sister. I had a brother in the same school so they went to him asking why he had never told them about his sister. My brother called me to his dormitory and told me to go bring our sister to him or I should find somewhere else to sleep. I stayed outside upto 2:00am that night.
Deborah - older girls had no mercy
It was a long time ago, but I’ll never forget those bullies. The first night at school, an older girl asked me to blow out the lights before going to bed. I had never seen bulbs before, having grown up in a remote village, so I didn’t know that the bulbs were electric. The other girls laughed while I tried to blow out the bulb.
Daniel - the bully
We would call S1s, give them a list of things we wanted from the canteen (with no money) and then ask them for “balance” when they returned with the goodies. Our headmaster was a disciplinarian, so anytime you were caught bullying, you were expelled. We waited for S4 and the night before we left, we attacked the S3s and beat them up.
Some of the boys even put sewerage matter in the S3 boys’ beds, covered them up so that when they came to sleep, they were unpleasantly surprised.
We were so unruly that they brought soldiers to escort us off the school campus after exams. We were bundled up into the school truck and dropped in town to find our way home.
Deal with that bully