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2010 – Uganda

Patongo School Rehabilitation Project in Uganda

Partner: AMREF Canada

AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation) began implementing the Patongo School Rehabilitation Project in the Agago District of northern Uganda in September 2012. This two-year project is promoting equitable access to education for girls and boys in a region that was previously devastated by a 21-year war. Through school infrastructure development and by creating an environment where girls and boys are given a fresh start to build their futures, AMREF is knocking-down the barriers faced by children in northern Uganda in regards to their right to education.

The project is working to rehabilitate classrooms, sanitation facilities and build other essential structures to better meet the needs of the students at Patongo Primary School. It is expected that the project will increase the enrolment of girls and boys at the primary and secondary level, providing an improved platform for the education and empowerment of children, and girls in particular, and for the transformation of a war-torn community.


In the Agago District of northern Uganda (formerly part of Pader District), recent decades have been characterized by civil war – a result of the insurgency of a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army that fought against the Ugandan government. As in most conflicts, it is the most vulnerable civilians who suffer the greatest consequences. The war destroyed the socio-economic fabric of the region, left thousands dead and many more, particularly girls, victim to rape, assault and abduction. It also forced over 90% of the district’s population to seek refuge in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. In fact, the town of Patongo was originally an IDP camp, and only granted municipal status in July 2010.

Since 2006, northern Uganda has seen relative stability across the region. Vast improvements in security conditions have been noted, as well as the return of more than two-thirds of the internally displaced people to their villages of origin. Demonstrating a strong desire to rebuild their lives, the people of northern Uganda have listed their top priorities for moving forward as peace, health care and education for their children.

Schools are overwhelmed due to understaffing, overcrowding, and lack basic structures and services such as classrooms, laboratories, sanitation facilities and dormitories. Statistics show that in 2009 girls’ enrolment in secondary school stood at only 24%, while 78% of boys are enrolled at the same level. Moreover, over 75% of girls in the district could not read or write – a figure that is 40% higher than the national illiteracy rate.

These alarming statistics are the result of social and cultural barriers that prevent children from attending school. Girls are further denied access because of barriers such as: gender-biased social norms whereby girls are called upon by teachers to perform duties such as fetching water during class time; limited psychosocial support services for girls affected by the war; girls traditionally serving as caregivers and being burdened when illness strikes a family; early marriage customs; high adolescent pregnancy rates; and rampant child labour due to poverty. Another considerable hurdle preventing girls from attending school is a lack of girl-friendly sanitation infrastructure within the school environment. Without private and safe sanitation facilities, girls struggle to enrol and remain in school.

The Patongo School Rehabilitation Project is employing a long-term vision. AMREF recognizes that when empowered with an education, children can be key agents in bringing well-being and lasting peace to their communities. The implementation of education projects in northern Uganda is providing communities with the foundation to re-build their lives and realize their noted priorities of peace, improved health and education for their children.

Project Objectives

The $100,000 grant from the 60 million girls Foundation will fund the following four activities:

    1. Improvements to school classrooms
      Patongo Primary School suffers from poor and insufficient infrastructure to accommodate the thriving and growing student population. The school currently has six standing structures with three classrooms each, which translates into a cramped teaching environment with a teacher to student ratio of over 100 to one. As evidenced by the pictures seen here, the classrooms that do exist are extremely dilapidated.
    2. Improved sanitation facilities
      The school also has five pit latrines with five stalls in each. Boys and girls have separate facilities but the latrines are old and in very poor condition. This is compounded by the fact that there is no running water at the school. With poor sanitation and hygiene comes increased risk of children – especially those of the primary school age – contracting water borne and poor sanitation diseases that inevitably affect their performance at school and their attendance. Moreover, without appropriate sanitation facilities, girls are also more likely to miss school when menstruating.
    3. Enlarging the residence for girls and building accommodation for teachers
      Currently, 150 girls are boarders at Patongo Primary School, although the school is not able to meet the demands of the community. The girls are currently sleeping in mud and brick structures doubling as classrooms. The girls’ security has been cited by parents and the Parent-Teacher Association as a major concern. Therefore, a portion of the proposed funding from 60 million girls will be directed towards the construction of a new and secure girls’ dormitory to accommodate a total of 250 girls. This activity is a major component of the overall Patongo School Rehabilitation Project, as increasing girls’ access to education by eliminating prohibitive travel distance between home and school and providing an environment conducive to study without other domestic obligations will increase girls’ chances of staying and thriving in school.
    4. Investment in technology: solar panels & computers
      The remainder of the funding from 60 million girls will be used to purchase solar panels to provide the school with much-needed electricity. In addition to powering appliances during the school day, access to electricity will allow residential students and teachers to work and study past daylight hours, improving their professional and academic performance. The funding will also be used to purchase 5 computers, to be installed in the school library and be available to all students, providing a modern platform for learning and increased access to a variety of educational materials. Finally, this project will facilitate the purchase of printer to allow cost-effective printing of examinations and other teaching materials.


Patongo Primary School is home to a growing population of 1,358 students – 691 girls and 667 boys. 150 girls are currently boarding at the school and, with the construction of the new dormitories, a total of 250 female boarders will be accommodated. Additionally, the entire community of Agago (a population of 228,360) will be indirect beneficiaries of this project. They will benefit from a growing generation of children who are educated, empowered and can act as advocates and as agents of change within the community.

Why a partnership with AMREF?

AMREF is an African organization and leader in public health development. For over 50 years, AMREF has worked with the poorest and most vulnerable populations, particularly women and children, to improve their health. AMREF has developed programs to fight against some of the biggest challenges of the continent: the fight against disease (HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, etc.), providing access to water and hygiene, Flying Doctor’s air ambulance program, training of health professionals, community health and information programs, lobbying government and public institutions.

AMREF is convinced that the viability and sustainability of their projects depends on the capacity of the communities they serve to take charge of them. In effect, AMREF takes in account the needs, the culture and the living conditions of the communities it serves to develop its projects: from those living in the large urban slum areas to the nomad peoples of desert regions. To underscore the exceptional contribution to the improvement of health in Africa, AMREF was the first African organization to receive the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Award.

60 million girls has chosen to partner with AMREF to support the activities that will be put in place at the Patongo school because of the relevance of the project in its context, the needs of the girls and the teachers, the community engagement and the reputation of the organization in the field. 60 million girls believes that this integrated approach of education and health provides a strong leverage to community and country development.