The Bishop Spartas Trust for Education in Uganda
‘Someone told me that poor people don’t have dreams, but I didn’t believe that, because God cares. All this time I have been waiting, and now I think it’s the time for my dreams.’ This was how Athanasios, a young Orthodox Ugandan, responded to the news that he could finally enrol at Kampala International University to study Computer Science. Coming as he did from a very poor rural background, his dream could never have become reality without the support of the Bishop Spartas Trust for Education in Uganda. The Trust, in its turn, can only ensure Athanasios completes his degree course with the continued support of generous donors here in the UK.
An Important Meeting
The ‘twinning’ link between Holy Prophet Elias Parish in Devon and Saint Cyprian’s Parish in rural Uganda had been in place for over twenty years by the time Protodeacon Peter Scorer and I at last travelled out to join Father Daniel Kaddu and his parishioners for their Patronal Feast in October 2012. It was something I had always longed to do, but had always felt that the money for the fare alone could be much better spent building a classroom. Then a parish friend, who also had experience of aid work in Uganda, told me ‘I think you should go – and I will pay the fares. You will find when you get back that you can fundraise much more effectively by telling people about it.’ Of course I jumped at the chance, and have since found myself becoming ever more involved in raising support for Orthodox Ugandans.
The face-to-face contact with Father Daniel and the people of Saint Cyprian’s was all I had dreamt of, and more, and I have written an account of it elsewhere (Feuillet de l’Exarchat, January 2015). What I had not foreseen was the close relationship that would develop with a group of young people we met at Saint Nicholas Cathedral Church in Kampala, who took us under their wings after Divine Liturgy while we waited some hours for our lift back to our guest house. They were welcoming, curious, very funny – and also very serious about their futures, which they saw in terms of service: to their community, to Uganda, and most importantly, to Orthodoxy. Two young men in particular – Athanasios and Dimitrios – asked if we could send them textbooks to help with their Uganda ‘A’ Level studies: both were hoping to do well enough to receive bursaries to attend University, either from the Archdiocese or from overseas sponsors.
Realizing the Need
Back in England, we kept in touch, and sent out what resources we could. We also began to hear alarming news about the financial state of the Orthodox Church in Uganda. From its origins in the 1920s it has always been predominantly rural, with the majority of the faithful being subsistence farmers. What income they have is spent largely on primary education, and then at secondary level for the most promising students if they can afford it. They willingly give their labour and time to the Church – in building churches, for instance, or sewing vestments – but can contribute very little in cash terms. Historically, the Archdiocese of Kampala and All Uganda depended heavily on financial support from Greece, Cyprus, and the Greek community in America. Since the collapse of the Greek economy, this support has almost entirely dried up. The Archdiocese is struggling to survive financially, and one of the first casualties was funding for university education, even of its brightest students.
So we found ourselves raising money informally to help out. We continued to send books and equipment for Athanasios and Dimitrios, but we also managed to pay tuition fees for Father Daniel’s daughter Sarah to complete her third year of teacher training when her Church sponsorship collapsed. Then Dimitrios obtained a place at Kampala International University to study Medicine for five years. We quickly realized that a more structured approach was needed, and so in 2016 the Bishop Spartas* Memorial Fund for Education in Uganda was set up
‘to provide financial aid to meet in full or in part the tuition fees, cost of educational materials, and living expenses of university students or prospective university students in Uganda who would without such aid be unable to complete their studies to the public benefit. Eligible students will be members of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Kampala and All Uganda (Patriarchate of Alexandria).
Dimitrios is now halfway through his third year at KIU Medical School, and doing very well: he consistently scores in the top third of his class in tests, and is particularly proud of his 90%+ performance in recent oral exams. He emails enthusiastically about each new stage of his course, and always expresses his thanks to the Trust and all its supporters: ‘I am really so grateful. You have made it possible for me to become a doctor, a dream I had from childhood which has failed for many but you have made it possible for me. May God bless you abundantly.’
Meanwhile Athanasios had also been offered a place at KIU for a three-year degree course in Computer Studies. We weren’t able to fund him straightaway, but a number of generous donations in the past year have meant that last September he too could begin the university studies that until now had appeared far beyond his reach. He is now halfway through his first year and well settled into student life.
Helen, another young applicant, has also been offered a place, on a Science in Education Diploma Course. The Trust does not currently have the resources to fund her, but we are hoping it may be possible in future if her offer can be extended.
These young people have a part to play in the future of Uganda and of the Orthodox Church there. They take this responsibility seriously, and we at the Bishop Spartas Trust will do all we can to support them. Any parishes or individuals in the Deanery who would like to be part of this support can contribute either via our website at bishopspartastrust.org (MyDonate or PayPal), or by contacting us at email@example.com for bank details.
The work of the Bishop Spartas Trust has the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Jean of Charioupolis.
Chairman of Trustees
Bishop Spartas Trust
*Reuben Spartas Mukasa (1900? – 1983) was the person primarily responsible for the establishment of the Orthodox Church in Uganda and a pioneer of African-led education before Ugandan independence. In 1972 he was consecrated under the name Christopheros as the first African Bishop of the Archdiocese of Kampala and All Uganda. The Archdiocese has recently relaunched its website at www.ugandaorthodoxchurch.co.ug