Andrew West's photos of the Mustard Seed Secular School, Uganda
There are currently three humanist schools in Uganda: Mustard Seed School, Busota, Isaac Newton School, Masaka, and Fair View School, Kamengo. Each offers a broad non-dogmatic education to secondary pupils, where students are encouraged to develop their own views about religion and the world. Each has received significant financial support from humanists and rationalists in the UK. New Humanist and The Rationalist Association have taken a central role in supporting the Mustard Seed School, Busota. Readers have so far donated more then £35,000, which has allowed the school to educate hundreds of children who would not otherwise have gained a secondary education. Mustard Seed School has made great strides in the past year, becoming certified by the Ministry of Education (having met their exacting standards), sinking a borehole to provide clean water (left) and building a science block and computer lab. For the first time every pupil had access to books this year, enabling the school to achieve their best ever exam results.
But they still need your support. The main need is for more space for the school to grow. An historic opportunity has come up, because the Muslim School next door to Mustard Seed has closed down, and the land come up for sale. It includes a block of four classrooms, offices and a kitchen, and would enable Mustard Seed to become a local exam centre, meaning students would not need to travel long distances to do exams, and bring the school additional revenue. The land and school have been offered at a very competitive price, but the offer is time-limited. We need to raise £22,000 as quickly as possible. If you can help please visit the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust's donation page or call Steve Hurd on +44 (0) 1782 750338. (Cheques can be sent to: 31 Greenmeadows Road, Madeley, CREWE, CW3 9EY)
Photographer Andrew West, who works for the British Humanist Association, recently visited the humanist schools in Uganda. Here, he describes what he saw at Mustard Seed.
I first heard about the humanist schools in Uganda in 2008, but it took me a few years to find an excuse to visit. My opportunity came when I needed a project to finish off my photography degree. I sent an enquiry to the Uganda Humanist School Trust about the possibility of visiting sometime in the future. A fortnight later I found myself on the outskirts of Kamuli, a tiny village in central Uganda, visiting the Mustard Seed Secular Secondary School, one of the three humanist schools in the country.
The rural areas of Uganda are weirdly fairytale. Pineapple bushes line the paths between huts, where healthy-looking people spread their coffee beans on the ground to dry. The weather is Goldilocks, and the town pump surrounded by laughing women wearing traditional brightly coloured, shoulder-heavy dresses. Aesthetically it’s like a Disneyland suburb, and it takes an effort to override the idyll.
But sometimes it hits you. I saw shoeless children beg at traffic lights. I saw teachers pile into a dorm room to kill a snake that had come through the window. I walked the mile down to the valley to collect water, and struggled to return with a 15 kilo jerry can, while children smaller than me lugged 25 kilos on their backs. And I photographed tributes to missing students, written in chalk on classroom walls – malaria still kills one in 14 children under five.
And then I saw the Mustard Seed School’s new science equipment, and children measuring refracted light from a prism. I saw a school debate over the virtues of the country’s recent discovery of oil. I saw the school football team shout with joy at the unveiling of their new kits, donated by Stoke City Football Club. It’s a beautiful, astonishing country, and the humanist schools are a hell of a thing.
I hope I captured some of that in my pictures.
Open the gallery to view more of Andrew's photos. You can view the full collection on Andrew's own site.
Uganda Humanist Schools Trust
31 Greenmeadows Road