With end of the first school term this academic year around the corner, the hopes and aspirations of hundreds of students who enrolled in a botched scholarship program at the Bishop Elijah High Schools in Munyonyo and Gayaza have come to a screeching halt.
For most of the term Bishop Elijah High School, owned by the self-styled bishop of Christ Faith Center in Kampala, Elijah Semugabi has been at the center of a major police investigation. Semugabi is accused of conning hundreds of parents into paying a 120,000-shilling registration fee to him, promising their children top notch education and free scholarships. Advertisements for his schools, which were placed on radio stations in select parts of eastern, central and western Uganda, attracted hundreds of impoverished students. However on arrival, the promise of the best education in the country fell flat.
16-year-old Geresom Duhimbazi from Mubende abandoned school in the middle of the term. He says his family sold its land to raise 400,000 shillings to purchase school supplies, meet transport costs and to pay for the registration at Bishop Elijah High School.
Duhimbazi, who is the eldest of his five siblings, says Semugabi assured him of quality education up to university level. However what he received were days of no food at the boarding school, inadequate teachers, squalid living conditions and no medicare.
Duhimbazi says live at Bishop High School in Munyonyo was unbearable and he was forced to flee and to work at a construction site in order to raise some money to take him back to his home in Mubende. He says he has no other choice, but to return home to work in other people's fields in order to raise money to go back to school one day.
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When Uganda Radio Network visited the Bishop High School campuses in Munyonyo and Gayaza, the poor conditions in which the students were living was evident. At the Gayaza school there were no dormitories for the students and so at night, desks and chairs in the classrooms were pushed aside and converted into dormitories. Most of the staff at the schools were very young and inexperienced at handling the large number of unhappy teenagers and could hardly be seen at the school during class hours.
Some students complained that they had to wait for days on end to receive medical attention and others revealed that on several occasions they had to make do with a cup of maize meal porridge as their only meal for the day.
About two weeks ago, the headmaster of Bishop Elijah High School in Munyonyo, Julius Arinaitwe, filed an official complaint against Semugabi at the office of the Assistant Resident Commissioner in Makindye. Acting on behalf of his staff, he accused the pastor of withholding their payment and forging pay sheets.
It is not clear what Arinaitwe's fate was, but he is no longer at the school. The Director of Studies and now acting headmaster, Simon Nuwagaba, called for understanding. He said the school administration was working in very hard conditions, but was doing everything possible to cater for the needs of the students and to ensure that the school opens for the second term.
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Although he refused to admit so, Nuwagaba, is part of a list of teachers demanding payment from Elijah Semugabi. The list, which was available at the Assistant Resident District Commissioner's office, indicated that he is owed 90,000 shillings in unpaid salaries.
Elijah Semugabi continues to maintain his silence. After a brief stint behind bars, he was released on bail and is awaiting the hearing of a case in which he is charged with obtaining money by false pretence and fraud.