COINS Foundation visit PEAS Horizon

At the end of September, a small team from COINS Foundation travelled out to Uganda to visit some of the projects we’d supported through our long-term partners PEAS and Habitat for Humanity.

With just two full days in the country, we had a packed itinerary ahead of us, but day 1 was all about PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools) and the recently acquired school, PEAS Horizon, formerly known as Willowvale.

  

Before PEAS' improvements

Only 1 in 3 African children access secondary school and yet each additional year adds 13% to a person’s lifetime earnings, which is enough to take a family out of poverty. PEAS work to provide quality and affordable education, building schools in the poorest areas and keeping fees low whilst investing in professional development and performance management to ensure students receive a good and consistent standard of education. Their focus extends to working with communities to remove some of the barriers to girls attending secondary school and educating families on the importance of this. Their goal is to have 51% of their students as girls and many of their schools either achieve or exceed this target. Our partnership with PEAS started in 2009 and since then we’re proud to have supported over 9,500 students through the construction of schools in Uganda and Zambia, but PEAS Horizon was a new challenge as the school was acquired rather than constructed. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Uganda experienced pro-longed periods of school closure with schools only fully reopening earlier this year. The closures heavily affected private schools financially across the country due to the loss of school fees and Willowvale (located in the Luwero district) was one of the schools struggling.

Before heading to the school, we were able to visit some of the families, whose children attend PEAS Horizon and ask them about their experiences. It was rewarding to hear a consensus that families were grateful to PEAS for stepping in and saving the school, without which the young people would have struggled to continue their education. In addition to this it was clear that the quality of the education and the content of the lessons had improved under PEAS management. Students appeared more enthusiastic, attendance was higher, and they returned home more engaged and motivated about their learning. As well as the students, parents felt like they were getting better value for their money and were complementary about their ability to communicate with the school around any issues or suggestions they may have. One difference that was commented on was how much more flexible a PEAS school is, when a family is struggling to pay fees on time, allowing them to delay payments or working with them to propose a payment plan, something that previously wouldn’t have been considered.

After visiting the students’ families, we returned to PEAS Horizon to be greeted with an incredible welcoming. Music, clapping and cheering filled the air as students lined up on each side of a long drive heading up towards the school buildings as a group of students danced all the way up the drive, escorting us as we walked. It was great to see so much positivity and enthusiasm and their love of music and performing was evident from the start, something that continued throughout the day.

Following the acquisition, PEAS had a relatively quick turnaround to ensure that the facilities and quality of teaching aligned with their existing standards across other PEAS schools. Part of these improvements included adding, fencing around the school, a new students’ kitchen and a new sanitary block as well as making repairs to some of the existing buildings. The PEAS branding was added to finish the transformation and although there are still plans for further expansion, it was enough to enable the opening earlier this year.

After the enthusiastic welcoming we had received, the students showed us around the school, giving presentations on their work and some of the curriculum they had covered. Several students delivered demonstrations on a few of the science projects they were working on as well as showing us how they make their own fertiliser for the school grounds using local and readily available ingredients.

 

In addition to their studies, students put on a display of items that they make in their spare time, either for purpose, decoration or as a potential enterprise to sell. Showing impressive art and craft skills, beautiful felt bouquets of flowers and other items thanked PEAS and COINS Foundation for their support as well as individual bracelets they’d personalised with our names, which was a lovely touch. Some of the students also shared more functional items that they create in their spare time, including bottled liquid soap and handmade mats for the home. The time, care, and detail they had put into all of this was remarkable and showed the potential for some exciting entrepreneurial opportunities in the future!

 

The afternoon was a particular highlight as students took to the stage and we enjoyed performances in theatre, dance, singing and poetry. In addition to their school song and African dancing, they had also written a thank you song and created some unique pieces especially for the occasion. One group had written a sketch highlighting the attitudes and inequality in opportunities for girls, mimicking conversations that commonly happen in households around Africa. Made up of all girls and just one boy they cleverly integrated humour around this topic that is a very common reality for many families and the appreciation that the male students showed for this was significant. PEAS work hard with existing families and communities to change mindsets and promote the importance of girls staying in education, but these young people represent families of the future, therefore truly have the power to influence the next generation.

 

With very little warning of our arrival date, it was astounding to see the level of effort and preparation that had gone into the day and the products of the students’ and teachers’ efforts. One of the key messages that came from both parents and teachers was that their families had worked hard to earn the money required to send them to school, so their job was to show them their investments had been worth it, by showing up and working hard to maximise the opportunity. The success of this takeover was evident, and PEAS are hoping to expand the school further to include another boys’ dormitory and teacher housing, increasing the capacity to allow for another 120 students to enrol. What was so memorable to see, beyond all the individual talents, was the level of not just interest but support and respect the students had for each other. How they interacted, cheered for each other’s success, or gave encouragement created a real community feel, where young people felt confident to stand up and take the spotlight. Whatever the future holds, PEAS Horizon has an overarching feeling of hope and happiness, and the students carry that through in everything they do.