Official Statistics in Ngara up to March 31, 2022 show that 912 students, equivalent to 6 percent of all students in Ngara dropped out of school for various reasons.
Some of the reasons highlighted include students being involved in informal petty business, domestic work, teenage pregnancy, being family caretakers, having to walk long distances to school and general lack of awareness among parents and guardians about the importance of education.
Nonconducive environments for learning also play a part.
With this in mind, on July 8, 2022 , Tembo Nickel Corporation ( Tembo Nickel) a nickel mining company operating the Kabanga Nickel Project in Ngara, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ngara District for this year’s CSR projects, amounting to 207.8 million shillings, earmarking education as one of the areas to support.
The area of focus was that of addressing lack of infrastructure in schools especially in the villages surrounding the project area Upon signing the agreement, Tembo Nickel Country Manager, Benedict Busunzu, said Tembo is committed to being compliant not only with the legal requirements of the country but is also keen to see social economic improvements of the community.
“Section 105 of the amended mining law directs companies to prepare a CSR plan agreed to jointly by the relevant local authority. We have done and shown our commitment and cooperation very early on, even before production began. We plan to be good neighbours and stakeholders, in line with the wise saying; a bright star is seen very early on,” stressed Busunzu.
Four months on since the signing of the MoU, some projects have already been completed whilst others are nearing completion.
Gervase Chiza, Tembo Nickel’s Community Relations Lead states that in the implementation of these projects, there is close corporation with the district council and the villages are fully involved. He adds that the projects cover five primary schools and one secondary school in Bugarama, Bukiriro, Muganza, Rulenge, Mbuba and Keza wards.
The projects include classroom renovations, the completion of semi constructed rooms, teachers offices and the purchase of desks and chairs. In total under this MoU there is the construction of 10 classrooms, 3 offices for teachers , 80 desks and chairs for primary and 80 desks for one of the secondary schools.
“In the implementation of these educational projects, some have been completed, while some have been more than 80 percent completed,” said Chiza.
Explaining the role of the community, Chiza says the community’s responsibility is to provide labour, local materials like rocks and security for the projects. He adds that the process is participatory through inclusive meetings in the partner villages right through to ward and district level.
Some of the teachers, students, parents and guardians who will benefit from these projects explain how poor infrastructure or complete lack of it or lack of it negatively impacts them and how now there is a ray of light and hope on the horizon.
Shaaban Juma, the head teacher of Muganza Primary School says his school has 555 students with only 5 classrooms for students from pre primary up to standard 7, adding that pre primary students alone number 108, and he has been compelled to ask for room at the old court house which is in the school compound to be used as a classroom.
In order to administer the remainder of students, he has had to ask for a special permit so that class one to class 3 can attend school in shifts. Class 3 attends classes in the morning till noon and class 1 attends classes at noon till 2 pm.
“If you look at what the policy has outlined, you will see that we are far form being able to implement it. In order to implement the education policy we would need 4 classrooms and 4 teachers. Currently we have one teacher and they are using the old court house which is also too small and dilapidated. We have the same challenge from class 1 to class 7,” he said He added that in August this year, Tembo Nickel began to complete the construction of uncompleted classrooms and one teacher’s house, whose construction had been dormant for a very long time. These buildings are now completed.
“To a large extent these buildings will assist with the current congestion in classrooms, but we don’t have a staff room. I am working from what was a store and where the teachers work from is supposed to be the library, and you see when it rains, the roof leaks, but luckily the head teacher now has an office, it’s just the teachers that are wanting,” he added.
The Chairman of Muganza village, Jackson Gwabjala, says before the Tembo Nickel assistance, classrooms were built through community donations, which always resulted in delays.
“Sometimes we were forced to use community police to get people to give donations, which of course is always a challenge because the truth is that many in the community are poor,” he lamented.
On his part, the head teacher of Nyabihanga Primary School, Nichodemus Nicholaus, said the school has 670 students from pre-primary to class 7.
“The pre primary classroom has 130 students who all conduct their classes in one room, the other classes have an average of 80 students per classroom,” he added.
“We did not have a staff room, we were using the library, these new buildings are really going to help us to reduce student congestion and we believe that there will be an improvement in performance because the teachers will be able to give students the required attention. “Students will be able to write properly and to conduct their exams and tests without copying each other due to close proximity, because currently up to 5 students share a desk,” said teacher Nicholaus.
He says the rooms that have been completed by Tembo Nickel began with plans from the district, communities and other stakeholders of the Education Programme For Results (EP4R). Ruhuba Primary School headmaster, Yustas Benedicto, says his school has 517 students with only 8 classrooms for students from preprimary to standard 7.
“We have a huge challenge of classrooms and students consequently miss a lot of lessons because it is hard to plan their shifts, we need at least 12 classrooms,” he lamented.
“Tembo Nickel has helped us a lot, we are certain we will improve grades in our school because now teachers can actually communicate with their students so much better,” he added.
Philipo Bahema (60), who resides in Ruhuba village, says it is a blessing to have classrooms renovated by Tembo Nickel because prior to this they were in a very bad state and the community was not in a financial position to fix them.
“Communities are economically challenged, so telling them to help renovate classrooms is next to impossible. We are really grateful that we could get this assistance and our children have a much more conducive environment for learning.” he said.
Naye Philibata Lauriani (32), a parent of two children in Ruhuba primary school, says the school was built in 2007 and has never been repaired or renovated.
“The classrooms were being used but they were so worn out and so many things were unfinished, now Tembo Nickel have made them so modern, there are floor tiles, ceiling boards and professional plaster work, honestly the children are studying in such a beautiful space,” he remarked.
Baraka Kristopha, a pupil in class five at the same school says before the renovation, he used to get very frustrated with the dust in the classroom, which made it very difficult to sweep.
Florida Kliani, a student in class 6 says they are still using classrooms which are not renovated, the floor is in dire condition and there are no windows or doors.
He is hopeful that when he moves to the new classroom, he will be at peace. A standard 6 pupil, Sofia Emanuel says the new classrooms are very attractive and very different for the current ones and cannot wait to move into them.
District statistics show that the whole district needs 462 secondary school classrooms, and currently there are only 395, so there is a deficit of 63 classrooms.
With regard to primary education, 2,075 classrooms are needed and currently there are only 994, leaving a deficit of 1,081. On secondary school teachers houses, 453 are needed and currently there are only 99, leaving a balance of 354 .
In primary education, the need is 1150 with only 263 available, leaving a deficit of 887. Realising the importance of proper infrastructure to improve education and reducing truancy, Tembo Nickel continues to engage with important stakeholders from village to district level in order to align with the priority areas for next year’s CSR program.
Recently, Kagera Regional Commissioner, Albert Chalamila acknowledged the importance of Tembo Nickel’s CSR projects in collaboration with Ngara district authorities.
In his discussions with Tembo Nickel officers who had paid him a visit to brief him on the project updates, Chalamila said he was impressed with the CSR projects and that it was his hope that the programs will expand as the project progresses.
“I am waiting with anticipation to come for the official opening of your projects in the not too distant future, these are very important in the development of the region,” stressed Chalamila.
MoU between Tembo Nickel and Ngara district for this year’s CSR projects, which now is close to finalization, was signed before Ngara full council, whose chairman William Bambala, thanked Tembo Nickel for it’s commitment to development and promised to ensure that the projects will be monitored and executed to plan.
“Our focus on the development of our community is paramount and therefore we are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with you to ensure we are successful,” he reiterated.
On his part, Ngara Member of Parliament, Ndaisaba George Ruhoro, said members of the community used to make donations to help with infrastructural projects for classrooms and health clinics and that the contribution from Tembo Nickel will assist significantly and reduce the financial load on the community.
“The mine has a projected mine life of 33 years, but even before production has started we are starting to see the fruits of this project,” he added.
The Ngara District Executive Director, Solomon Kimilike, said the MoU will assist in the health and education sectors in the selected areas.
“Let me just say that through this project Ngara will definitely benefit, because once production starts, the district will be entitled to 0.3 percent service levy of turnover. These funds will be part of internal district revenue and will help a lot of different projects in the district and not just the villages surrounding the project,” he said.