Helping Uganda Schools

Set up to provide a great education in self-supporting schools, HUGS is a model for the development of low-cost, sustainable learning, as Dr. Richard Bircher reports.

Public and private education in Uganda

It is not easy being a teacher in Uganda. Class sizes are regularly in excess of 100 pupils, educational equipment is basic, and teachers working in state schools are paid months in arrears. It’s no wonder that teachers rarely stay long in a school and can fall into a nomadic lifestyle; moving from one opportunity to the next.  Ugandan state education is ‘free’ for primary school children. Though, families often from very poor backgrounds, have to purchase uniforms, books, writing equipment and many pay a small bursary towards food.

There are thousands of small private schools in Uganda, from nursery, primary to secondary and college level. These are many funded mainly by religious orders or philanthropic organisations. This is where the charity Helping Uganda Schools (HUGS) has been making an impact.

St. Zoe’s – the first HUGS school

HUGS was set up 20 years ago, initially to provide a bursary scheme for children orphaned by the AIDS crisis. The founder of the charity, Mr Peter Mount (CBE) began the schools building project. The first completed school, St. Zoe’s, just outside Mubende, is now a beacon of educational excellence within a highly impoverished rural area of Uganda. The school has 40 acres of farmed land which provides nutritious food to its 315 students. Children are taught from age 4 to 16 studying in classes of 40 pupils or fewer and educational achievements are in the top 10% in Uganda. For those children without an academic leaning, the school has a vocational block providing important life skills.

Special needs schools

Helping Uganda Schools provided funds for the first special needs education school in Western Uganda, in a town called Fort Portal – the Good Shepherd School. Inclusive education for children with disabilities is extremely rare in Uganda; this school bucks that trend. Learning is a group, community exercise where the contributions of all children are valued. Every child, regardless of their disabilities, is taught sign language, so deaf children always feel a part of conversations. Last year, Good Shepherd entered the local inter-school football competition. They trained on a small sloping patch of land next to the fishpond where tilapia are bred to eat. Stephen, the sports teacher, reported when they arrived at the competition children from other schools derided their entry. Disability is accepted as a legitimate excuse to bully and harass. However, as each game progressed it was apparent the mixture of excellent nutrition, dedicated teamwork and an abundance of children with ADHD provided the Good Shepherd team with a competitive edge. They won all their matches and lifted the trophy.

A secure space for girls’ education: Asili Girls School

HUGS also provided the capital for a very special school in Lira in northern Uganda: the Asili Girls School. Lira is an area of Uganda with a tragic history as regards to abuse against girls. The Lords’ Resistance Army, during the Ugandan civil war, were at large in this area. There are many stories of classes from girls schools being abducted and enslaved. Sister Veronica, the Headmistress of the Asili Girls School, is only too aware of this awful legacy and this gives her the motivation to strive to provide the best opportunities for her students so they can become independent, fulfilled and happy adults. Helping Uganda Schools has funded the building of the school science block, and chemistry equipment so the girls can receive an education in science which is so often denied. Sr Veronica now intends to build the best Computer Studies teaching facility in the local area. Girls with skills in science and information technology have access to many jobs with better pay.

Current project

HUGS, is currently building their seventh school in a town called Jinja (known for being the source of the Nile).  This will be our second special needs school, St Francis de Sales, and will specialise in educating children with profound hearing loss and other disabilities. We are on track to opening the school in February 2021.

The importance of self-sufficiency

HUGS, despite providing financial capital never micro-manages local projects. We engage with local honest, hard-working leaders and allow them to decide their priorities and ways of development. The ‘Trusted Representatives’, become our friends and co-workers in trying to make the world a better place. We encourage self-sufficiency and independence.

Over the last 20 years, HUGS has invested 1.3 million pounds in the education of children in Uganda. 1500 children now attend one of our sponsored schools every year. We help Ugandan schools, but also believe we provide a valuable service to our donors.  Many people want to help make the world a fairer, more equitable place for all of us to live.  HUGS provides a trusted way for resources from people who ‘have a lot’ to be transferred to people who ‘have so little’.  We are eternally grateful for their support.


Richard Bircher is a UK Family doctor and also Chair of the charity Helping Uganda Schools. He has been a medical educator for years and continues to mentor medical students.

To find out more about HUGS, or make a donation, visit the HUGS website

HUGS always welcomes advice, support, gifts in kind or ideas how to improve our charity.


Video link to ‘what do we do’.

All images kindly provided by HUGS

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