Marks of biting poverty were visible on their faces, but most touching are the conditions under which their children study at a school established at the local mosque in Lodonga village, Yumbe district.
A few weeks before the beginning of Ramadhan (the Islamic month of fasting), Sheikh Mahmood Kibaate, the acting Supreme Mufti and chief executive officer of House of Zakat and Waqf Uganda, a Muslim charity organization, led his staffers for a needs assessment visit to this village, which brought out the ugly face of poverty that communities in the West Nile sub-region are grappling with.
In the mosque’s compound are two mango trees under which a religious instructor was conducting a Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) class. The majority of his students wore old sandals, some had torn clothes but it did not hide their smiles at the sight of the guests.
A few metres away stands a small grass-thatched hut that serves as the girls’ dormitory. A few of them have at least a mattress and a blanket while others sleep on the bare dusty floor.
The mosque here also serves as a classroom during the day, and, a boys’ dormitory at night. The majority of them are orphans.
“West Nile generally and Yumbe, in particular, has been suffering since the late 1970s to the early 2000s due to war which left us with a lot of orphans and widows. It also weakened individual incomes, and subsequently the growth of Islam,” said Kassim Abdallah, the head of Da-awah in Yumbe district.
Because of poverty, Abdallah said, Muslims became vulnerable to losing their children to other faiths that had charity organisations that were active in the area.
The situation on the ground forced House of Zakat and Waqf Uganda to embark on a drive to build the orphanage centre that currently has 104 learners, studying under mango trees and with no desks.
“To get better education, you must be comfortable. The environment around the centre is not conducive, the situation is indeed pathetic and requires urgent intervention,” said Dr. Ibrahim Matovu, the former Kibuli SS headteacher, and head of the organisation’s education department.
In the interim, the organization looks at constructing a six-classroom block and a five stance latrine at the centre to improve the learning conditions. dormitories and an administration block will be constructed in the project’s second phase.
The organisation also delivered at least 70 mattresses and blankets for the orphans at the centre.
On April 29, deputy Prime Minister, Gen Moses Ali joined a fundraising drive at an iftar dinner the organization hosted at Hotel Africana, targeting more than Shs 267.8 million for the project.
“It is interesting to see that Muslims are getting organized. What the Sheikhs need to do is to help the people to understand what Zakat is, and the importance of paying it. Because you can’t force anyone to pay Zakat but if the people understand it, they will pay willingly,” Moses Ali said.
Sheikh Ahmad Kisuule, one of the organisation’s directors told guests at the dinner that President Museveni had recommended the organization to the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) for technical assistance through which 1,000 Sheikhs and the organisation’s employees will benefit from the bank’s training.