PRESTIGIOUS is definitely not one of the things that come to your mind the moment you set your foot at St. Leoâ€™s College Kyegobe in Fort Portal.
And yet that is what used to be the schoolâ€™s trademark back in the days. Several decades have gone by and the effects of negligence have taken their toll on this former great school.
Built in 1921 by the White Fathers, the college was first established at what presently stands as St. Maryâ€™s Seminary in Virika, Fort Portal. By then, it was attracting pupils from St. Peterâ€™s Primary School and other Catholic primary schools.
The birth of the school can be traced back to the early 1930s, when the White Fathers invited the Brothers of Christian Instruction to take over from them. In the early 1960s, the school was shifted to its current location, on a hill overlooking the plains of Mountain Rwenzori and some parts of Fort Portal town.
But in the early 1960s the Brothers of Christian Instruction wanted to return to their base in Kisubi and concentrate on the schools they had started. It was then that the school got the first black headmaster, Moses Nyakazingwa.
The prowess of being champions in almost all studentsâ€™ sports activities, the excellent academic performance, and the general serenity at the school are partly what used to attract students to this college.
But, all this might is now no more. They could still be giants in sports, but not in academics, discipline and infrastructural set up.
An eerie feeling grips me as I tour the school in the company of one of its longest serving teachers and administrator â€” Francis Wako. The only thing this school can be proud of is its rich history.
The school has a total population of 700 students and 45 teachers. But a few years ago, the school was indebted to the tune of sh390m and was almost closing down.
Today, the dormitories are in an appalling state, with most of its classroom blocks and kitchen in dire need of a new coat of paint. The dilapidated teachersâ€™ quarters are not any different.
Soon, the school may have no piped water if its pipeline is not rebuilt.
â€œThe old rusted pipes burst at various points, leaving much of the water flowing before getting to the taps,â€ explains Wako.
The school obtained a bus a few years ago, after a series of strikes cropping from its delayed purchase.
From 1976 to 1986 the school was headed by Austin Mulengwa, and later his one-time deputy Henry Basaliza was elevated and ran the school between 1987 and 1992.
When Basaliza joined politics and subsequently became a Constituency Assembly delegate, the school started its downward journey, marred by a state of disorganisation and accumulated debts. Basalizaâ€™s deputy, William Asiimwe, was promoted to head the school up to 1995.
Most instrumental of all this schoolâ€™s former headteachers, was Bro. Flood, who served the school from 1996 to 2003. He had no connection with the Brothers of Christian Instruction.
He was connected to the Holy Cross Brothers. This was the schoolâ€™s prime time, with enrolment shooting up and academic and sports performance improving.
Flood was replaced by Bro. Joseph Byamukama, who had been transferred from St. Edwardâ€™s Bukuumi in Kibaale; and was part of the Brothers of Christian Instruction. Byamukama was, a few years later, replaced by Bro. John Mary Etubire and later Otigo.
Steven Nyakahuma, the chairman Parents and Teachers Association, says: â€œThe head teachers from the Catholic Church somehow lost grip. There were massive strikes and the school almost closed,â€ he explains.
But that is not all about this once glorious school. It was the most renowned school in strikes between 2004 and 2008; to an extent that at one time one of the head teachers, Bro. John Mary Etubire, was waylaid and beaten and left unconscious in a pool of blood.
His arm was broken, while the ear and skull were cut. He spent almost a full academic term in hospital in Kampala.
After the attack on Bro. Etubire, the school was closed for some time to conduct investigation; but to date, no culprits have ever been apprehended.
During Bro. Etubireâ€™s time, students complained of poor feeding, lack of drugs in the school clinic, undelivered school bus, poor sanitation and the headmasterâ€™s harsh administrative style.
The students also complained of lack of a goalkeeper for the schoolâ€™s football team and demanded that a mercenary be hired.
Otigo, the new head teacher, together with his deputy, Wako, is steadfastly revamping the school.
â€œWith discipline, motivation of teachers, proper funding and commitment, the school will soon be among the best in the country,â€ Wako explains.
The head teacher says the Government needs to continue supporting the school financially, to help it regain its lost glory.
Nyakahuma, the PTA boss, adds that the new management is committed to revamping the school. â€œWe know we will not fail. We have come a long way, and we will surely make it,â€ he says.
Dr. Twaha Basamba, the Old Boys Association vice president, says all stakeholders must come back and rebuild the school.
â€œThe school will soon regain its position on the national level. It is on the right course of recovery, but we need to work together,â€ Twaha, a Makerere University lecturer, says.
He adds that teachers and students must be motivated. â€œGood teachers and students need to be rewarded and encouraged. More so, we are happy that the Government has lately been supporting us with funds from the African Development Bank,â€ he added.
School profiles: St. Leo's Kyegobe retracing