In Uganda, the British were the colonialists, their arrival coincided with that of the Italian Catholic missionaries set up camp and started spreading the scriptures to the Africans.
The legacies of their work are prominent in Acholi sub region and one of those was in education in which they set up some of the most successful and prominent schools in Uganda.
So the Italian missionaries in setting up the very early school such as Mary Immaculate in Gulu, the Fr. Angelo Negri, other fathers and nuns were often arrested and imprisoned by the colonialists for “imparting knowledge to a people who did not want to be subdued under British rule.”
In December of 1948, a priest and two nuns negotiated their way out of prison to take care of the 18 girls who were already at the school and had refused to obey orders of the British soldiers to return home.
The priest refuse to be intimidated and carried on with their work and as time went on; Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School emerged and eventually became the pride and heart of the Comboni Missionaries in Acholi sub region.
The British stormed Sacred Heart SS arrested all the priests and nuns and turned the school into a military garrison.
Referred to by the British administrators as dissidents, the priests and nuns were locked up cells in places such as Lira, Nkokonjeru, Masaka, Nkozi, Moyo and Gulu.
One of those who was locked up in Gulu is Sister Claudia M. Peffer of the Comboni Missionaries in Gulu who recalls how she survived those “dark days.”
“Our activities were preaching Christianity and teaching elementary school by preparing and mentoring young girls,” Peffer said.
The 18 girls they first enrolled in 1934 were from Acholi and from Moyo.
Despite the intimidation and harassment by the British administrators, the nuns and priest never lost spirit because they considered Sacred Heart a sanctity.
“Knowledge and prayers form part of our journey to a meaningful life,” Peffer said.
“It was beautiful but difficult in the past as we walked on foot and rode on bicycles to convince parents to send their girls to school,” Peffer added.
She said that the difficulty came during World War II when the British administrators took over all the sites and infrastructures of the Catholic Missionaries in Gulu and barred them from communicating with one another.
They set up a military base in Sacred Heart SS which halted any form of education as it created an unfriendly atmosphere for girl education.
Still visible in the compound of the school is the cemented water well used by the British soldiers but kept at bay from the students and teachers in the school.
In 1942 Rev Fr. Negri, Monsignor Antonio Diniato and mother Ajulletta Domini were released from Nyapea jail because the colonial regime realised that even with the priests in prison, the work on the ground continued.
Nyapea which was under Gulu administration was transferred to the current Nebbi district as punishment to the catholic diocese.
Although some priests and nuns were pushed away from Gulu, they continued to educate girls through reading, writing and simple arithmetics.
They created a simple syllabus containing Bible study, manual work and recreation.
The focus of educating girls was dream efforts of Mother Anjuletta who opened Mary Immaculate Primary School, with the support of priests like Rev Fr. Angelo Negri.
A school such as the Primary Teachers Training College was opened under Sister Catherine Pinkman in 1947/8 in what is now Christ the King Teacher’s College in Gulu district.
Sister Holga Pinyateldi (RIP) once wrote about her experience in Gulu, giving a picture of sacred heart SS as one of her admired family life.
‘It was education that girls understood the reason of life with prayers, work and study as core of living,’ Peffer quoted her.
Girl Child education today
Teachers at Sacred Heart SS believe that the colonial legacy is worth remembering since it will remind them of the importance of their work and the education of girls in the region and Uganda at large.
Deputy Head teacher Thomas Angulo said that unlike today, previously a job was a social expectation after completion of one’s course.
“Job opportunities waited for girls in the past which made them concentrate on good results,” he said “whether it paid a moral value or wages, it had better meaning for them.”
But today, even hookers compete with teachers with degrees because of low salaries, this has demoralized any effort towards the advancement of education,” he added.
Mr Angulo said that the Universal Secondary Education (USE) and Universal Primary Education (UPE) policy program is a reflection of the Missionary legacy.
“The disadvantaged girls now find their way to school under quantity but in this quantity, only few qualify due to their economic background and quality,” Angulo said.
Mr Angulo said that being a Catholic founded school; Sacred Heart SS still carries those moral values based on God fearing and prepares a child for a responsible life.
He said that prominent OB’s of the school who are today enjoying prominence include, Trade Minister Amelia Kyambade, Opposition politicians Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar, Gulu’s Betty Aol Ocan, Dokolo’s Cecilia Ogwal, among others.
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