School made me no better.

After seeing the theme for the Uganda Blog week, #UgBlogWeek, I have to admit, my brain spazzed out for a while. School did make me better. Besides basic mathematics and composition writing, I learnt the value of confidence and contentment, discipline and time management. Most of all, I learnt the values of resilience, loyalty and friendship.

I still remember the day I received my admission letter to Horizon Campus of St Lawrence. I was elated, especially because the school was within 5 Kilometers of my home. I knew I would be okay with my mum and dad being just a stone throw away. Monday came, and I loaded my suitcase into the car, with a promise of new friends and a sense of belonging.

Friends I made and I belonged. I had too much fun such that when the time to extract myself came 4 years later, I was not ready to say goodbye. I studied, I laughed, I cried, I learnt. I grew. Rebecca did not.

Rebecca had never been off Tanzanian soil before she had come to Uganda, for better education. This was the first time she’d had to live without her family, for months at a time. At 14 years old, she could only speak Swahili with sorry being the only English word she knew. Learning English seemed very troublesome, despite the fact that her dictionary never left her side.

In a school with a large Swahili speaking population, you would think she would have found her bearing right after making her bed on the lower bunk. But vernacular speaking was considered a taboo so these conversations could not go on so long. No kindness worth polishing an entire walk way on a Saturday morning. She couldn’t speak English. She didn’t speak at all.

She was smaller than all the other girls and her failure to effectively express herself limited her interaction. This made her a target for so much ridicule and scorn. Knowing no English wasn’t cool. Speaking faulty English wasn’t cool either. This made her cower even deeper into her shell that she could go three days without uttering a single word to anybody. This was a school that celebrated academic excellence to a point of placing pictures and names of the best and worst performers on the school notice board. Her name never left the notice board. You would have to know English to sit for exams in English, yeah?

As a result, Rebecca was always alone. She walked to dorm alone, to the field alone, washed her clothes alone, and as we hoarded into the dining room at supper time, she’d be half way through hers, alone, she ate alone. There is a lot worse than eating alone. But not when you are a 14 year old girl surrounded by laughing girls in close-knit groups.

Being in a foreign country with no family is hard enough. But being a 14 year old girl at the end of scorn and ridicule from your peers, teachers and system in a foreign country has got to be alot harder.

4 years later, a little English later, we all left Horizon. With our education, our culture and life-long friendships. With our principles and discipline, with confidence and pride. But what did Rebecca Have? She had a shuttered sense of self-worth and a repulsive certificate to show for it. School made her no better. Not this one. Where we grew in confidence and esteem, she was timid and alone. Where we excelled and hit our performance goals, she picked a few more English words, alone. And when we left to go start all over in new schools, and later into the world, she packed her bags and went into the world too. Alone. With a faint idea of friendship, a nonexistent self-esteem, and no sense of belonging.

With a world ready to tear you into shreds, you need all the stability and personal relationships you can get. A safety net. For some encouragement when the road gets narrow. Which it does. Rebecca never got that in school.