Wednesday, November 7, 2007

notes from the veranda

14/ 10/ 2007

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting on the future veranda of the middle of one of the schools we are building. There are about 50 workers on site and the buildings are growing like very large expensive mushrooms. We’ve just about finished one block with 2 boarding houses racing up and a 3 classroom block at foundation level.

Its unbelievable to see the speed that the sites go up when its all running smoothly and its actually starting to look like somewhere that people could learn. The site is about 40 minutes to the West of Kampala, on a slight hill. It's a really green and lush area with brilliant views and stunning animals everywhere… we had a 2 ½ meter black Cobra race out of the foundations a couple of days ago which was promptly chased after by all the men and subsequently taken home for supper. It makes me a little more wary of wandering around the site through the long grass as if I’m invincible. We’ve got one of the architects over from the UK who is designing what will hopefully be some pretty funky school rooms allowing for loads of natural light and space.

The general idea of everything we are doing is to try and establish procedures and systems that are sustainable and transferable between all our schools from the employment procedures, building and design procedures right through to the finance systems, educational systems and future growth. The transferability is essential at this point as we are hoping to build at least 10 schools in the next 3 years with scaling up to 50 schools and beyond so it’s important to get it right earlier and then benefit from the economy of scale.

Of the 2 sites we are building on at the moment we are facing different challenges. On one (onwards and upwards- buloba) we are doing fine on time and will complete the buildings on time but the budget is incredibly tight and we’re having to work so much on cost saving and efficiency. At the other school (Forest High School- Kikandwa) we have more money as we are working in partnership with a big company (New Forest Company) and they have drawn lots of funding from famous friends but we have been waiting ages for designs and site plans so we only started last week. Accordingly we have more money but are very tight on time for building a school that can start in February.

On top of that we are looking for another 3 sites for opening in February 2009. Buying land is not straight forward in Uganda and its even less straight forward when you are white and have a significant language barrier so as with a number of other areas we tend to defer responsibility for the negotiations to the brilliant local team we're working with. We are getting better at it but it just takes a very long time to really get anywhere, then you have to start considering all the different factors associated with building a school in an area- like is there actually a need for one or have you just got over excited because the land is nice, a good price and has a beautiful view. This is pretty difficult when you see a perfect bit of land but find there are already schools there or there aren’t many primary school leavers. We are increasingly wanting to look at our schools and school areas to evaluate whether we are effectively doing what we set out to do and whether we are reaching our beneficiaries or if we are just distorting the schools market by making pupils move from an expensive school to an affordable school in the area. The first PEAS school has well over three hundred orphans which is a imperfect but useful indicator that it is reaching the right kids.

The reason it takes such a long time to look at sites is that they usually don’t have a road that goes to them so you just sort of have to make do with whatever path there is and just stick the wagon in 4 wheel drive. It’s a lot of fun doing that sort of off road driving and realistically a lot safer than driving on roads where there are crazy bus drivers and trucks full of people who just don’t move for you and send you into a ditch. If it starts raining then it is safer to drive on tarmac roads as dirt roads disintegrate. I have discovered that it is in fact possible to drive a car sideways when the roads reach a certain state of slime and that it is not fun. Land is generally very cheap and we looked at a beautiful site yesterday of about 10 acres with an asking price of 13million Ugandan Shillings which is about 3500 pounds. Investment opportunity?

I love being here and I might just have the coolest job in the world. If you want to do it next year then get in touch with the PEAS guys in the UK soon.

Promoting Equality in African Schools

Promoting equality in African Schools

PEAS founds and develops low-fee secondary schools that widen access to secondary
education in Uganda, where there is currently very limited free secondary schooling. At the time
of writing, government schools charge between 30% and 500% more than those run by PEAS.

PEAS currently operates from Kampala, Uganda, where the government's recent provision of Universal Primary Education (UPE) is at risk of being undermined by a huge shortfall of affordable places at secondary level. Funds raised by Promoting Equality in African Schools pay for the start-up capital costs of school building projects. This means that PEAS schools have lower running costs and lower fees. Quite simply, PEAS makes quality secondary education available to far more young Ugandans.

At the point of writing we have 1 established school operating very successfully and have 2 more across Uganda that are opening in February 2008.

For more information about who we are and what we do visit our website at