Chemistry in Kigezi and Kabale

In 2004, a visit to a meeting where an Iraqi bishop was speaking resulted in a conversation with a Ugandan missionary priest, which has led to 21 visits to that country, as well as several also to Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya.  It is what could have been a quiet retirement but instead has been one of the most exciting periods of my life!  My passion for Africa was ignited by missionary conferences in my evangelical youth, along with stories from my mother’s work with West African merchants.  A film in my teens about missionaries killed by Auca Indians began my support of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF).  I almost went to E Africa as a young teacher, but realise I have been much more use after a lifetime in education.

My first trip in November 2004 was to Bukinda, 30km north of Kabale, where I spent 2 weeks at a minor seminary.  During that time, the government announced that all three sciences would be compulsory for students taking O level from October 2006.  My early teaching of chemistry, lifelong involvement with chemistry examining, and many years inspecting science and mathematics in post 16 education were going to be useful: I was hooked!  I am proud that we now have many Bukinda students studying or qualified in medicine, science and engineering.

A Birmingham meeting with Archbishop Sentamu resulted in a letter from him to the diocese of Kigezi.  In summer 2005 I went with the Rector of Bukinda Seminary to meet Bishop Katwesigye of Kigezi diocese; he invited us both to lunch and to talk to diocesan clergy: although I have been a Catholic since 1977 Kigezi has been the Ugandan diocese with which I have had the closest relations!  Since that meeting, Captain Wilson, now education secretary, and his wife Joy have been great friends; like my great aunt, they are Church Army missionaries.

On each visit to Uganda I ran courses for local teachers on teaching and learning in science, but in 2009 was asked by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the Institute of Physics to run a joint one-week course for teachers, at Bukinda.  Soon after, national Centres for both subjects were established at Bukinda and we began to run regular courses for students and teachers.  This was when the friendship with Church of Uganda’s Kigezi High School developed.  I was able to send them books and equipment for science, donated by schools in the Midlands and by LabAid, and sent by Tools with a Mission.  These links, and the use of Uganda Development Services UFund to send funds, are a wonderful aspect of my work: Christians of all denominations are involved.  We now have a team of able local chemistry teacher-trainers, and in October 2014 I worked with James from Kigezi High on an S5 course at Bukinda and an S6 one at Kigezi High.

More recently I have also worked in Kanungu, building Newman Primary School and refurbishing a secondary school in Nyamirama, a very needy area.  We have just begun to use a laboratory there, to World Bank design; a UCA member helped with the funding application for furniture.  Gas, water and electricity are yet to be added, but we were proud that our first teachers’ course there reported the earliest results from Uganda on the RSC global crystallisation experiment!!  Both schools are yet to be registered as Exam Centres, so I am kept busy with endless fundraising.  We plan to develop a vocational stream in due course.

Another chance visit, clearly divinely inspired, resulted in contact with Revd Dr Shirley Danby, who represented Bristol diocese at the installation of Bishop Bagamuhunda this January.  Since then, I have met them both.  Unbelievably, Shirley is also a chemist!  This September, I met Captain Wilson and was able to obtain a progress report for Shirley on projects in Kigezi diocese and to discuss ways in which science in the diocese can be improved.  I had previously met Kigezi High’s Head at a pro-life conference (teenage pregnancy is a huge issue for schools) but this visit we focused on science.  This is in line with the bishop’s wish to address declining academic achievement in church schools.

My January 2015 visit will break new ground, with a visit to Moroto (hopefully in an MAF plane) where the first Bukinda doctor did his O levels, and consolidation of work in Lira, at Iceme Girls’ School.  Our aim is to show that chemistry is fun, chemistry is clever, and chemistry can be cheap!!  Other UK colleagues of mine have also become excited by work with Ugandan youngsters: their enthusiasm makes it all worthwhile!

                                                                                                                 Jean M Johnson