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The Ugandan-Irish Girls of Karamoja

Sinne Fianna Fáil atá fé gheall ag Éirinn

Buion dár slua thar toinn do ráinig chugainn...

(Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland
Some have come from a land beyond the wave...)

Kangole students singing the Irish National Anthem, joined by Dónal Cronin, Ambassador

These are the beginning lyrics of the Irish national anthem, sung on this occasion not only by Irish men and women but, also by young Karamojong girls of Kangole Girls School, during the Embassy’s St. Patrick’s Day reception in Kampala.

The guests that attended the reception on Thursday 13th March 2014 were bowled over by the spectacle: one could hear a pin drop as everybody listened and later burst into joy and huge applause, really setting the scene for the festivities that followed afterwards.

Kangole Girls School in Karamoja was founded by the Catholic Diocese of Moroto in 1967 and is run by the Sacred Heart Sisters with 650 students attending it today. The school enjoys a special relationship not only with the Embassy but, with many Irish back home in Ireland as well. Sister Carmel Flynn from the Sacred Heart Order was the first Irish nun in Kangole Girls School. Her arrival as a head-teacher in 1990 started what was to be a deep and meaningful relationship between Ireland and this particular school. 4 Irish nuns have taught at the school since then.

The school has also received strong support from the Embassy and the Irish Aid programme. As part of Irish Aid efforts in Karamoja, Kangole Girls School benefitted from the Uganda Post Primary Education and Training Programme (UPPET), when the school received an equipped computer-room, a stocked library, four classrooms and equipped Physics, Chemistry and Biology laboratories. The teachers have also benefitted from capacity building and training in Science and Mathematics, through the Irish Aid funded SESEMAT programme. 170 students at the school also benefit from the Irish Aid Karamoja bursary programme.

For the 16 girls that travelled to Kampala to be a part of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, this was a time for them to showcase not only their musical skills but dance as well.

Kangole students presenting a traditional Karamojong dance

Six of the sixteen girls were travelling to Kampala for the first time. They were impressed by the many high-rise buildings, cars, supermarkets and tarmac roads. They also noticed that schools in Kampala are fenced off whereas those in Karamoja are not.

Like Frances Awas said, “Thank you for the invitation to Kampala, some of us would not have made it here had it not been for this invitation”.

Others were thankful for the recognition they got at the St. Patrick’s Day function as well as funding that enables their colleagues to get a chance at education through the bursary programme.

A message to the Head of Mission from Jane Frances Keem is that, “Thank you for the support to Karamoja. Like you said in your speech, Uganda will not develop until Karamoja develops. So, please, continue to support Karamoja”.

So, as the world celebrates St. Patrick’s Day this month, know that the efforts of very special Irish people mean that the students of Kangole Girls School celebrate Ireland every day, singing the Irish anthem and raising the tricolour alongside Uganda’s. Long, may it continue!