May 18, 2024
TEACHERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Sr Babirye Leaves Namagunga Primary Better, 22 Years Later

(This article was first published in the New Vision on November 2, 2022)

By Mathias Mazinga

Occupying a position that was previously held by a mzungu has always been an intimidating experience for many black Africans. This certainly was why Sr Mary Assumpta Babirye got concerned when she was appointed as the first black African headteacher of St Theresa Namagunga Primary Boarding School in Mukono district.

Then a youthful nun, Babirye was appointed to replace the highly influential Irish missionary nun, the Very Rev. Sr. Genevieve Karen (of the religious order of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa), who had led the school for 33 years.

“Replacing an influential Irish religious missionary with many international connections appeared a tough assignment for me. Sr Karen had become synonymous with the school. Fitting in her shoes became a big dilemma. So, I hesitated to accept the appointment until I consulted my Mother Superior, who encouraged me to take up the office,” Babirye says.

On arrival at the school in 2000, she observed a number of things. The buildings at the school were old, the population of pupils was modest and the teachers were generally not up to date.

“The school had 916 pupils. Many of the teachers were already in their retirement age, but Sr Karen still kept them, just to enable them earn a living. She was running the school on the basis of charity,” Babirye says.

The school was founded by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa led by Mother Mary Kevin Kearney in 1936.

According to the school’s records, it started as a charitable maternity centre to cater for pregnant mothers in the area. So, when Sr Karen assumed leadership, she retained the founder’s charitable inclinations.

Babirye is a perpetually professed member of the Catholic religious institute of the Little Sisters of St Francis.

Her Achievements

The school had no convent. The headteacher and all the other nuns were residing at Mount St Mary’s College, Namagunga, located in the vicinity. This meant that during the night, the headteacher and staff would retire, leaving the students alone at the school.

“I came up with a list of priorities. I wanted the headteacher to be present full-time at the school. So, I modified one of the old teachers’ houses and turned it into a convent. I also renovated the staff quarters, the classroom blocks and other facilities such as the bathrooms and kitchen. I recruited young dynamic teachers and support staff as I also motivated the old ones. The improvement in the quality of service and workmanship resulted in an increase in the number of pupils from 916 in 2000 to about 2,000 pupils to date,” Babirye says.

With more pupils, she introduced more streams, increasing them from two to four. Babirye says she divided responsibilities, designed a strategy for the school’s academic excellence and established a good working relationship with the school stakeholders — parents, teachers, support staff, the education ministry, the Church and donors.

“This enabled me to start and successfully accomplish big projects such as the four-storey dormitory block, the main hall, the complex building which houses dormitories, sickbay and other facilities,” she says.

The other facilities that Babirye established include a swimming pool, kitchen, toilet facilities, bathrooms, a playground, washing machines and parking yard.

“I also purchased a school bus,” she says.

Emotional Retirement

Babirye says she came to Namagunga with the ultimate purpose of grooming an all-round God-fearing girl child, fully equipped with intellectual knowledge, moral values and prosperity skills.

“During my educational apostolate, God enabled me to groom educational administrators. Some of my former members of staff are now headteachers,” she says.

After 22 years at the helm, the nun now has taken her perpetual leave.

“I reached the retirement age and must leave. Currently, I am waiting for my Mother Superior to tell me the next assignment. I leave with satisfaction with the things that God has enabled me and my team to accomplish. Right at the start of my ministry at Namagunga, I put my trust in God. I am sure it is by His divine providence that I have been able to do whatever I have done,” Babirye, now 65, says.

She adds that she will miss the company of her pupils immensely.

“I have loved them and they have loved me so much. They have been part of me. They have always given me a sense of joy and fulfilment,” Babirye says.

And, indeed, as she walks around the school, she stops and greets them with a motherly smile. They also love her and follow her as she goes back to her office. A few of them freely tell her they were given little food the previous night. Babirye assures them she will talk to the cooks to increase the quantity. The pupils then ululate with excitement as they go back to their classrooms.

Sr Babirye with some of the pupils of St Theresa Namagunga Primary Boarding School

Her Childhood, Education                                                  

Sr Babirye was born on June 15, 1957 to the late Ssalongo James Luswata and Nnalongo Maria Solome Namutebi Luswata (RIP). She studied at Gayaza Boys Primary School, St Theresa Girls Primary School, Gayaza and later Nkozi Demonstration School.

“My religious vocation started at Nkozi Demonstration School. Some nuns from Nkokonjeru Convent visited and asked us if we wanted to become nuns. I did not know what it meant to be a Catholic sister, but I raised my hand out of curiosity and the nuns registered my name. After Primary Seven, the sisters came home to pick me. I actually tried to resist, but my dad convinced me to give it a try. But I went crying,” she says.

Babirye then did her aspirancy (1973-74), postulancy (1975) and novitiate (1976-77) at Nkokonjeru Convent. She took her first religious vows in 1978 and was sent to St Joseph’s SSS, Nsambya, as caretaker of the students.

In 1979, she was transferred to Stella Maris College Nsuube (Buikwe district), still to take care of students. Her superiors then sent her to Sancta Maria TTC, Nkokonjeru, to train as a Grade II teacher (1981-82).

From 1983-1984, Babirye was subsequently appointed to teach at Nsuube Stella Maris Primary School.

In 1985, she was sent to Kalundu Spiritual Formation Centre, Lusaka (Zambia), to do a six-month course in spiritual formation.

On her return in 1986, Babirye was appointed as the head of the postulancy at Nkokonjeru Convent.

When the Government phased out the Grade II teaching qualification, she joined St Joseph’s SSS, Naggalama, where she did Senior One, Two and Three. She was the best candidate at Senior Four in 1991 with 17 points.

In 1992, she joined Mount St Mary’s College Namagunga for her A’level, after which she joined Makerere University for a degree in education in 1997. She majored in English literature.

After Makerere, Babirye took a management course at Uganda Management Institute before being appointed headmistress of Nsuube Stella Maris Boarding Primary School in 1998.

In 2000, she was appointed as the headteacher of St Theresa Namagunga Primary Boarding School.

Who is Sr Babirye?

Sr Babirye has an interesting personality that has probably made her a unique educational administrator. In spite of her religious status, academic standing and vast influence in the educational sphere, she is incredibly humble.

I found her engaged with a parent. And, surprisingly, she came out of the office and beseeched me to give her a few minutes to get done with the parent. Upon concluding with the parent, she apologised for keeping me waiting for long.

Babirye then ushered me into her office, which surprisingly still, was modest — a small room with a simple sofa set, simple desk, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a few religious portraits hanging on the wall.

One of the parents, Annet Nalwadda, says she admires Babirye’s unique administrative skills.

“She has that charm with which she handles all of us. Because of her excellent interpersonal skills, all the teachers do what they do with great love and dedication. She is also a perfectionist. She gives the pupils all the values you would desire for the girl child. In fact, as a parent, I am glad my child is at St Theresa Namagunga Primary Boarding School,” she says.

The director of studies, Moses Owor Alew, says Babirye is a special leader.

“We are 93 teachers, but each one of us has a supervisory role. She instilled in us a sense of teamwork. She is keen on discipline and is good at making friends. The school has benefitted immensely from her international connections.

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