By Steve Hurd
Chairperson of the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust
The Uganda Humanist Schools are just getting back into their stride after Covid and a new shock has hit them. This time, the schools have been presented with unexpected tax demands. The introduction of draconian anti-gay laws led many countries to make large cuts in their official aid to Uganda. Raising new revenue domestically is the only resource. Until recently, most teachers earned too little to pay tax. However, high inflation has raised teachers’ pay and brought more of them within taxable pay bands. Additional local tax offices have opened, and they have been busy sending income and capital tax bills to everyone, including schools. A bill was sent to Isaac Newton School for £33,000 in accumulated capital taxes and for £12,000 for arrears of income taxes. Dan Kasanda, UHST’s auditor in Uganda, appealed on behalf of our schools. On the grounds that the schools were not-for-profit charities, capital taxes were waived, as was income tax on UHST’s Covid hardship payments. However, Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed Schools have turned to UHST to help them find over £12,000 – a half immediately and the rest by September.
Unless we can get help with this, UHST spending plans will need to be cut back. Due to post-Covid falls in donations we have already postponed the introduction of secondary education at Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School. It looks as though we will also have to postpone much-needed refurbishment work on the girls’ dormitory at Isaac Newton and the boys’ dormitory at Mustard Seed school, the construction of a group-study space, art and pottery rooms, a kindergarten playground, and multi-media equipment for teaching rooms.
Katumba Parents Primary School
The new hall at Katumba Parents Humanist School is progressing well and should be completed by the end of August. Members of the Katumba community were shaken by a recent school attack by an Islamic guerrilla group, called the Allied Democratic Force (ADF). They crossed to Uganda from the Congo and attacked Lhubiriha school. 37 boarding students were brutally murdered, and five girl students kidnapped. Although this happened 40 miles from Katumba, the ADF is active all along the Congo border and around the school. Just two months ago the sister and brother-in-law of a parent-governor of Katumba school were shot and killed by ADF fighters. Such attacks are relatively infrequent, but they are also unpredictable. It is a reason why the area has remained backward. The help that UHST supporters have provided to construct the new school at Katumba is the first outside help this beleaguered community has received. The families really appreciate the support we give them, which is transforming prospects for the entire community.
Kasese Humanist Schools
For some years, and over four or five visits to Kasese in the west of Uganda, our trustees have been impressed by Robert Bwambale and his work to establish three Humanist primary schools and a secondary school to bring education to children from poor families from local villages. Through his active Facebook page, Robert raises substantial funds from individuals and organisations in North America and Europe. However, since Covid struck, he has been struggling to pay teachers and maintain standards. This is a shame because Robert is an influential figure in the Humanist schools’ movement in Uganda. UHST has provided funds for books and for staff development, but we have been reluctant to go further until accountability Is improved. This year Robert has set up a ring-fenced bank account for his schools and has accepted assistance from Dan Kasanda, UHST’s auditor in Uganda. Dan is helping Robert to improve his accounting procedures and will conduct full annual audits. This ought to reassure donors going forward. Next month I will visit the Kasese Schools with Peter Kisirinya, Director of the Humanist Schools Organisation. We are working with Robert on a development plan for the Kasese Schools and UHST trustees have agreed to do their best to raise funds for the schools.
How you can help
In the period since Covid, donations to UHST have fallen by about a third. In these circumstances, the unexpected tax bombshell has been a major challenge. Our supporters have already been very generous in response, but if readers of Humanistically Speaking can help too then we would appreciate donations here.
Children across the Humanist Schools and their families really appreciate all the support which humanists have provided. We are, together, helping to transform the life chances of many young people. Thank you!