Last year, Mwebaza Foundation set the goal of outfitting Niwot Elementary’s sister school, Mwebaza Infant Primary School in Kyengera, Uganda, with two shipping container classrooms to help with overcrowding.
When students reach age 10, they usually drop out of school, because there isn’t a physical place to go anymore. The Mwebaza Infant Primary School tries to hold on to these students for as long as possible, even construction card-board partitions to increase individual classrooms, but this was not viable or efficient.
The Mwebaza Foundation saw the opportunity to build more classrooms by using shipping containers. When foundation founder Dale Peterson, and executive director Devaki Douillard first pitched this idea to the Mwebaza staff and community, they were met with inquiring looks. A few residents inquired about ventilation, safety, and light inside the shipping containers. There was some concern about how the students would learn in such dark, uncomfortable environments. After Peterson and Douillard explained the renovations of the containers and showed renderings of the finished products, the community understood and rallied around the idea.
Foundation members knew this task would be all encompassing and would require a collaboration of epic proportions. In the past, the foundation had great success bringing in nonprofits to supplement its own capabilities. For this project, it needed a nonprofit that specialized in container building construction, overseas shipping, and installation. Peterson said just getting the shipping containers through customs involved many moving parts, documentation, and planning.
Homes of Living Hope, headquartered just down the street in Louisville,, had plenty of experience in this department and stepped in to fill that need. This partnership allowed the foundation to continue, full steam ahead, in procurement of funding, planning, sourcing materials, and construction.
Not only did the container project provide classrooms for Mwebaza students, but it also brought the St. Vrain Valley School District together to collaborate on this project. Peterson said, “Sunset Middle School students created the design for the container building with the assistance of a local architect and engineer. Students at Niwot Elementary raised the funds to send one of the containers to Uganda. Niwot High students constructed the classrooms in the containers with the help of local builders in the parking lot at NHS. Students at the Career Development Center in Longmont created an entire upper story for the building out of solid steel that was packed inside the containers before they were sent to Uganda.”
All in all, around 1,300 volunteers came together from start to finish to work on these container classrooms - including donors, students, construction companies that donated products, individuals that donated supplies or tools, and those involved with the completion ceremony. The final act was setting up these containers in the village. Eleven volunteers from Colorado traveled to Uganda this past summer to finish the installation of the shipping containers at Mwebaza Infant Primary School.
Peterson said, “We had three different teams over there doing different things. We had one team that was building, one team that was installing computer labs, and one team that was helping with scholarship interviews. Those three teams overlapped to where people were over there for a month. The actual construction of building took two weeks.”
The containers traveled to their final resting place via multiple modes of transportation and stops. The container classrooms were first sent by train to California, placed on a cargo ship and passed through the Panama Canal. Next they arrived in Italy and traveled through Africa via the Suez Canal to finally arrive in Kenya. There, the containers were loaded onto a truck and taken to Jinja, Uganda, at which they were processed by customs and finally sent to The Mwebaza School.
When volunteers with the Mwebaza Foundation arrived, they took to unloading the containers and assembling each school room. In addition to school supplies and tools, the containers held solar panels, playground equipment, soccer balls, chairs (donated by the St. Vrain Valley School District), tables made by local construction company Watson Mills & Design, among other contributions. Niwot High clubs made specific gifts that spoke to the nature of each club. Tri-M contributed recorders, The Knitting Club gave how-to knitting kits and guides, and Best Buddies contributed adaptive equipment to Embrace Kulture School in Entebbe, Uganda.
Peterson wanted student contributions to speak to the contributors' talents and interests, “We were happy to assign them a role like painting, dry walling, but if they had something else in mind that they wanted to do, we accepted that as well. Because we wanted it to be an authentic and meaningful experience for them. It was truly wonderful to see the creativity of the kids come through.”
Once the shipping containers were up and running, Kids on Computers, a nonprofit partner of Mwebaza Foundation, installed a computer lab inside one of the new buildings. Peterson explains that many of these children have never seen or touched a computer in their lives, “It was sublime to watch the students put their hands on mice and keyboards, many for the first time!”
Certain items, including two solar panels and a solar battery, were taken sometime during the customs inspection. However, Mwebaza donors came together to generate additional funds to recoup the lost items. Peterson describes the project coming together, because of the cross-continent collaboration, “What we encountered there was an entire community that was so grateful, so excited, and so willing to help in any way to make this successful. That’s what was so exciting to me… It was great to see the Americans and Ugandans work together, side by side, to accomplish this goal.
Currently, both shipping container classrooms are up and running, serving the children of Mwebaza Infant Primary School. Eight solar panels are supplying energy to the containers and the remaining few are expected to be installed as soon as possible.
Project Uganda: Cougars/CDC Creating Classrooms not only provided a space that will cater to a growing class of students, but it provided an invaluable lesson for both communities. To foster the health, well-being, and education of our world’s children, it takes a village coming together across oceans and cultures.