Band of brothers
Nearly three years ago, Lords Meade vocational college, my secondary school in Uganda, admitted its first students. The bush was still being cleared when they moved into classrooms built by the Tofta Educational Trust, a charity which is the brainchild of John Kirkwood, an Englishman who has taught both in Kenya and Uganda.
The school, in Njeru township, Jinja, was set up specifically for 400 students, many of them orphans on sponsorship schemes or bursaries.
Otherwise we charge pound;270 a year for boarders. Our aim is to combine academic and vocational education so that we prepare young people for the world of work.
In the past year, Lords Meade has also forged links with two English schools, Rendcomb College in Cirencester and Wolverhampton grammar school.
Everyone involved is keen to learn from each other, break down any perceived stereotypical views and build bridges which extend beyond the classroom.
I try to bring a balanced message about Uganda. When I speak to children, pupils, parents and governors in this country, of course I tell them about malaria, civil wars and starvation, but I always emphasise that Uganda is a rich country: it is rich in natural resources, especially human resources.
So how did the link start? Kevin Riley - my English "brother" - was pivotal. We've known each other since 1992 when a link was made between Bristol Cathedral School, where he was head until this year (he's now at the John Lyon School in Harrow), and St James's Jinja, where I was deputy head and link co-ordinator until 2001. During those nine years a number of gap year students and staff from Bristol Cathedral School visited us at St James's.
When I moved to Lords Meade, Kevin talked to Gerry Holden and Bernard Trafford, heads of Rendcomb and Wolverhampton respectively, about forging links. Kevin, Gerry and Bernard were colleagues 20 years ago and the four of us often speak about our "brotherhood". We share good and bad experiences, and discuss how we can give and take. It is not just about material benefit.
These links have been strengthened by recent visits from a teacher and two gap year students from Wolverhampton and from James Stutchbury, the link co-ordinator at Rendcomb. And our brotherhood extended to sisterhood when Lucy Kibirige, my deputy, visited our link schools last October. She returned to Uganda with a wealth of experiences.
My most recent visit here has included being a guest at the recent Secondary Heads Association annual conference in Brighton, a visit with a primary school to an organic farm near Cirencester, and a visit to the Black Country Museum.
I am not offering a hand which begs, I am offering a hand which symbolises the prospect of genuine friendship between our staff and our pupils. As our world continues to shrink, we hope that our hands will continue to be joined in genuine educational and cultural partnerships.
Godfrey Kiganga is headmaster of Lords Meade college, Uganda. Email: lordsmeade@ yahoo.com; firstname.lastname@example.org