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Muhairwe helping USE dropouts access higher education

By Clare Muhindo

Added 10th March 2016 12:00 PM

In 2010, National Water and Sewerage Corporation's former boss Dr. William Muhairwe, after publishing his book; "Making Public Enterprises Work, From Despair to Promise: A Turnaround Account," used its proceeds to start a foundation that would help needy students access higher education.

Muhairwe helping USE dropouts access higher education

Dr. William Muhairwe (3rd left) and his wife (3rd right) pose for a picture with some of the beneficiaries on their graduation day. Photos/ Clare Muhindo

In 2010, National Water and Sewerage Corporation's former boss Dr. William Muhairwe, after publishing his book; "Making Public Enterprises Work, From Despair to Promise: A Turnaround Account," used its proceeds to start a foundation that would help needy students access higher education.

When government introduced Universal Primary Education (UPE) in the 1990s, and later Universal Secondary Education (USE) to cater for the needy, many thought it would help end poverty in the country. It has done a great job in helping needy students attain basic education.

However after secondary, many of the students who go through the UPE and USE system usually give up on education, because they cannot afford higher education.

It is exorbitantly expensive. For instance on average students under the private sponsorship scheme pay about Sh4million per year.

The government sponsorship scheme admits only 3000 students every year. Unfortunately they are usually from the big schools in the country, leaving out the needy children who study from the USE schools.

They yearn to go to school, their families want them to go to school, but there is no money to support them through higher education.

Some of the boys then end up on the streets, while the girls are married off immediately, leaving a large number in poverty.

 ome of the beneficiaries on their graduation day at akerere niversity Some of the beneficiaries on their graduation day at Makerere University

Starting up a scheme

In 2010, National Water and Sewerage Corporation's former boss Dr. William Muhairwe, after publishing his book; "Making Public Enterprises Work, From Despair to Promise: A Turnaround Account," used its proceeds to start a foundation that would help needy students access higher education.

Named Muhairwe Education Trust Limited (METL), the foundation was conceived from the idea that Muhairwe and his friends had gone through a similar situation while growing up and needed to give back to society.  

"I decided with few friends that we should put money together and see how to help the disadvantaged, especially those from rural areas, like some of us were; who had performed excellently from the rural schools but could not make it on government sponsorship," he says.

"On top of that, I had written a book and had got some proceeds which we felt should entirely go to supporting higher education."

It was generally a combination of the proceeds from the book, and contributions from friends, who according to Muhairwe felt the need to support the disadvantaged people in rural areas.

Humble beginnings

With support of New Vision and other local media in August 2011, we called on needy students who had qualified to study medicine, engineering, commerce or law at any recognised university.

"We felt that people who had qualified to do those in rural areas must be very intelligent students."

The selection criterion was very stringent. "We were looking for students who had studied in USE schools and we did not mind whether they were orphans but it came out that most of them were. Some had lost both parents, others only one," he recalls.

Although they received so many applications, Muhairwe says the foundation could only support 10; therefore shortlisted applicants had to undergo thorough scrutiny before they were selected for the fund.

He says that in order to be considered for the scholarship, members of the board of trustees had to visit the applicants in their homes.

"We moved to Karamoja, Kitgum, Kapchorwa, Tororo, Mbale and Kalangala, to establish whether they were really needy. I remember the one in Kalangala was living with the mother in a wooden house. It rained every day and we realised that the house would at times flood," he says.

Muhairwe however notes that needy students who were able to study at the best schools in the country are not considered for the fund.

"The board assumes that by the time you are able to pay the very high fees to those schools, you can support yourself. We only support those that go through USE."

The fund caters for their tuition, functional fees and accommodation throughout the course of their first degree.

Only ten students were admitted to civil engineering, software engineering, mechanical engineering, petroleum engineering, law, Bachelor of Commerce, and Industrial engineering. Seven of them graduated in January this year, while others from medicine are in their final year.

Upon admission, some of the students were taken on by the foundation's well-wishers. For instance, Prof. Perez Kamunanwire, Uganda's former ambassador to the UN pledged to fund a medical student annually.

 "Kamunanwire told us that he went through the same experience. His mother died while giving birth because there were no medical facilities, and thus he suffered going through school," Muhairwe says.

Kamunanwire's first beneficiary, Felix Bahati is pursuing a Bachelor of Medicine and surgery at Mbarara University of Science and technology.

He had passed all levels, but was just being sponsored by schools and friends and did not know how to continue with higher education, after senior six. Most of his sponsors had told him that they did not have the money to pay University fees.


Monitoring of beneficiaries

Normally students go to the university, waste a lot of time partying and dodging lectures. Beneficiaries of the trust were monitored closely to ensure that they are fulfilling their dreams.

"We monitored their performance on a semester basis, and if one got a lower degree, they would be discontinued," Muhairwe notes.

While it is common for students to be bad roommates, METL beneficiaries were monitored closely through their hostel management. At the end of every semester, the hostel custodian would be required to write a letter about the student's behavior, to find out whether they have been social, and the roles they played.

The board also goes ahead to ask for a recommendation letter from the religious leaders at their respective churches and mosques. "We do not mind their religion; you have to help the community as well as being part and partial of the society activities.

Finding more support

Since the foundation is completely dependent on private voluntary support and receive no statutory funding or grants, all its activities are run solely with contributions from well-wishers. Additionally, 30% of the earnings from the sale of products like the Book "Making Public Enterprises Work," go to the fund.

However, much as the foundation has been able to see its first cohort graduate from University this year, its finances are growing meager by day.

Just like the students' loan scheme, METL beneficiaries are expected to give back at least 20% of their salary as soon as they find a job, as a way of supporting the fund to grow bigger.

"We are waiting for those who have graduated. Some have pledged to take on one student or at least contribute 20%. That is how we want to make it grow. My family is also contributing. If government can come in, we would be very happy," Muhairwe says.

We want to grow it into a bigger foundation, fundraise and especially through the students who have completed. We also want to increase the intake, because we noticed that they are so many needy children who long for higher education."

Beneficiaries' testimonies

Doreen Nyaburu, graduate of B. Industrial Engineering

oreen yaburu 2nd left poses for a photo with colleagues during their graduation at yambogo university Doreen Nyaburu (2nd left) poses for a photo with colleagues during their graduation at Kyambogo university

Dad died when I was only ten years old. Mother was a housewife and could not afford to pay our school dues.

I was then taken over by my paternal aunt Zipola Athieno who was a primary school teacher at the time. She supported me through primary and secondary school. Unfortunately, she fell ill, during my senior six vacation and stopped working.

She told me that she would no longer afford to pay my fees and advised me to apply for government sponsorship at Wanyange primary teacher's college. I had scored 19 points out of 25 and was the second best at my school, so that was a major setback in my life.

During my vacation, I was doing a petty job, so I used part of my earnings to apply for self-sponsorship at Makerere and Kyambogo. I was admitted to Kyambogo to pursue B. Industrial Engineering, but I had to go to the PTC, since I had been admitted there on government sponsorship.

Just before the reporting date, one of my friends at Makerere University invited me to visit her. That is when I saw the METL advert at the senate building. I read through its requirements, but all I had with me that day was my pass slip and Kyambogo admission letter. It was the last day, but I tried my lack.

I then rushed to National Water offices where we were supposed to submit our applications. I knew that would be my last opportunity therefore I pleaded with the lady in office that I did not have all the requirements. She was so nice to me and asked me to submit in in two days.

When I submitted my application, I began attending lectures at Kyambogo, with the hope that I would get the scholarship. My friends were very supportive and always prayed for me. I believed that the Lord would take me through till the end. I did not care whether I would be allowed to sit for the exams; all I wanted was to have a feel of campus.

A week later, I was called for interviews and passed. I was on tension; it was a big panel of about 12 judges. I had never been interrogated before, but I was convinced that I would get it.

About a month into the semester, I received a call from METL. They were providing my tuition, functional fees and accommodation. I was walking from campus back home, when I received the call. It was like a dream; I cried on phone and went straight home and thanked God for the opportunity.

We were treated like their own children; they checked on us throughout our studies and monitored us closely. I am now looking forward to getting a job, so that I start supporting the trust and other disadvantaged children in society.

I am currently a trainee at Segoa Satom, a construction company, based in Kampala. We have to work hard so as to support the foundation.

Janet Nayebale, B. Petroleum and Geoscience

 anet ayebale right with her friends Janet Nayebale (right) with her friends


I never got to see my father. He died when I was still a baby. My mother was only 18 years old when she gave birth to me. Her highest level of education was primary, but she wanted me to study and accomplish what she had failed to accomplish.

She tried all sorts of jobs, from being a waitress, house help, selling groceries, among others. She never had a permanent job. I was the best at my primary school, and as a result, St. Agnes Secondary school in Entebbe admitted me on a bursary.

I was the best at O ‘Level with 18 aggregates in eight subjects. My story run in the papers, and all the people who read about it would call mom and send her some money. She was then able to take me to Mengo S.S for senior five.

Although she tried to supplement the donations with her meager earnings, she could no longer afford it. It was becoming more expensive. I then applied for a scholarship to study senior six, and was taken on my Polar Molar foundation, which gave me a bursary to study senior six. They paid the tuition while mom paid the accommodation.

At senior six, I scored 17 aggregates, but I was not admitted on government. I applied under the private sponsorship scheme and I was admitted at Makerere to study petroleum engineering. But I did not have the money to pay. I applied for foreign scholarships, but was not considered either.

It was time to report to University, but I still did not have any hope of getting tuition. But good enough, lecturers held a sit down strike and campus was closed for about a month. It was then that a friend told me that she had read about METL in the papers. I applied, sat for the interviews and passed.

I later joined campus about two weeks after other students had been admitted, because I was selected for the scholarship later on. The course was so tight, so I had no room for doing any side jobs. We would start lectures about 7am and end at 7pm.

Now that I am a graduate, I wish to work and give back to the trust. It is a great feeling took back at other people and give back to the needy. I always wanted to make my mother happy, she was positive that I would study and thought I would accomplish what she did not.

Chris Woyeya, BSc. Civil Engineering

 hris oyeya at work Chris Woyeya at work


My father died when I was still a baby. I was handed over to my grandmother at the age of three. When I reached primary five in 2002, I lost my mother too. I was then taken up by my paternal uncle. He did not have enough money, but good enough, there was UPE. I went to Buzelobi primary school up to 2004, when I sat Primary seven.

Uncle paid my school fees from senior one to four; there was no USE at that time. After senior four he proposed that I join a technical institute because he did not have the money to continue paying at A' Level. I passed excellently at O ‘Level and was then admitted to St. Barnabas on a bursary.

I did a science combination PCB/M and scored 19 points, but I missed out on government sponsorship. I gave up on education because my guardians could not afford to take me to University.

I joined Kakira sugar works during my vacation and saved some money. When MUK advertised for private applications, I went and applied hoping that someone would lend me some money to study, so that I could pay back later, but I still failed. METL selected my name from the private admissions list and directed me to pick up application forms. I went through the whole process as it had been set, and passed.

They paid my tuition, functional fees and accommodation. I had a chicken project at home, and that helped me raise pocket money to take me through. Once I get a job, I want to support the foundation, so that it grows into a bigger Organisation.

Ismail Ssali, B Sc. Mechanical Engineering, Makerere University

smail sali graduated in achelor of echanical engineering Ismail Ssali graduated in Bachelor of Mechanical engineering

I studied primary school in Kalangala at a Parish school. It was free education and I scored 22 aggregates in four. It was not an excellent performance, but I was among the best pupils at the school, so one lady at a parish called Miss Elizabeth promised to sponsor all my education.

Towards my senior four exams, I told Elizabeth that I wanted to be an engineer, but my school; Sserwanga Memorial School did not have science teachers at A ‘Level. She gave me a condition that if I scored a first grade, I would be taken to a better school to study sciences.

With 28 aggregates in eight, I was admitted at Masaka S.S to study PCM/Economics. I do not know what went wrong, but one of the priests at the parish, through whom the money was sent, said that I should return to Kalangala if I still wanted to be sponsored.

My mother lived in a wooden house, hand to mouth. I explained the whole situation to her; we went to the head teacher Masaka S.S and requested to pay the fees in installments. We paid a total of Sh.300,000. I studied and excelled with 19 points, but did not make it on government sponsorship.

Mom planned to get a loan from Micro finance trust to pay my fees, until I finish. At the beginning of the first semester on August 13th 2011, I read about METL through an advert in the New vision. I saw the requirements and I was among the people they were looking for; brilliant students from rural schools.

I applied and went through the selection process; they visited my home in Kalangala to prove that I was really needy, my former schools to inquire about my behavior and I passed the test. Muhairwe has been covering everything, including tuition, functional fees and accommodation.

Dr. Muhairwe encouraged us to work so hard. At the end of every semester he asked for a recommendation from the college registrar and school deans, about one's behavior. As a token of appreciation, he would give Sh100,000 to anyone who got a second upper each semester, and Sh200,000 to one who got a first class.

If you did not perform well, you had to give reasons why you are failing. Without Muhairwe, I would not have graduated with a second upper. I am currently a trainee at Kakira Sugar works. We are supposed to give back 20% of our gross salary, in order to support other needy students.

However, Muhairwe says that the money we are earning now is not yet enough, and we can support, when we start to earn more.

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