Over 200 Benefited From BAT Scholarships

Jun 03, 2002

I have been able to realise my dreams basically because of BATU,” says Dr. Bernard Omech, now the proud medical superintendent of Pope John’s Hospital in Apac.

By John EremuI have been able to realise my dreams basically because of BATU,” says Dr. Bernard Omech, now the proud medical superintendent of Pope John’s Hospital in Apac.“Considering my poor family background I would have dropped out of school after primary seven. But thank God, after passing my primary Leaving Examinations (PLE), my father applied for a scholarship from the British American Tobacco Uganda (BATU) and I was able to continue my studies up to the university,” he adds.Omech, who graduated from Makerere University last year is one of the over 200 beneficiaries of the BATU corporate scholarships scheme. Although the scheme was initiated in 1982 specifically for children of tobacco farmers, it was in 1987 modified to include children of BATU staff.This year, the company celebrates two decades since the scheme was launched. To date 228 students have benefited from it. Of these, 50 are still running scholarships. The scheme has sponsored people in the fields of law, commerce, engineering and now medicine.BATU spokesperson, Ruth Musekura, says the scheme is part of BATU’s corporate social responsibility programmes. “The company feels proud of the scheme because we are making a difference in the communities in which we operate,” Musekura told Education Vision.“It is one of the ways of ploughing back some of our profits in to the community. This is the company’s contribution towards improving education in this country,” she adds.Omech was born in 1973 to William and Rose Omech of Aber in Apac district. Today, he is in charge of a hospital that handles at least 6,000 in-patients and over 10,000 outpatients a year. This is a job he never dreamt of during his youth when he roamed the village bare-chest looking after goats and shooting wild birds. While most professionals abhor working in rural areas, Omech is happy. “I feel proud to serve in a community was brought up. After my internship at Mulago and Lacor hospitals, I chose to work here because it would give me the best community experience for further studies. I want to do a masters degree in Internal Medicine,” Omech says. To ensure tobacco farmers take many of the scholarships the entry requirement is stiff. Farmers’ children need up to aggregate 12 in PLE to qualify. But the children of BATU staff need aggregate eight and 10 respectively, for management and non-management staff. At ‘A’ level, all categories of applicants needed to have scored a maximum of aggregate 24 in the best six subjects. There are 13 scholarships every year of which 10 are for ‘O’ level and three for ‘A’ level. The children are selected on a competitive basis by a cross-functional committee that first verifies the results with the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB).Born in a polygamous family of 13 children, Omech said his father, an agro-forester with BATU, could not have paid for his secondary school education. But on sitting his PLE from Awindiri primary School in Arua in 1988, and scoring aggregate five, his father applied for the BATU scholarship and succeeded.Musekura said by insisting on sponsoring only the best students, the children are inspired to work harder. Omech confirms this.“To retain the scholarship at ‘A’ level, I had to work extremely hard. I think that was why I succeeded in reading Medicine at Makerere,” he recalls. Omech sat his ‘O’ levels at Ombachi SS and his ‘A’ levels at Tororo College. He read Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics (PCB/M) He joined Makerere in 1995 to read Human Medicine. Musekura does not rule out the possibility of the scholarship being extended to beneficiaries outside the BATU environs. But this is a management decision and only time will tell.Ends

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