Where there is no classroom

UNICEF’s new high-performance tent is restoring hope for sustainable education in Kasese District

By Hope E. Muzungu
high performance tents, emergencies, education in emergencies, tent, education, Kasese, flooding, Uganda, UNICEF tent, emergency supplies, UNICEF supplies, children, learning, primary school
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Wamala
08 February 2022

At 3 am that night, a thunderous sound like an unending roll of massive drums woke up the residents of Kilembe Division as River Nyamwamba in Kasese District burst its banks. The raging floodwater ripped the sides of the Rwenzori mountain ranges as it gushed downhill, hurling down tree trunks and boulders the size of small trucks at everything in its path.

Thousands of stones now stand over what used to be Bulembia Primary School, which was established in the 1940s in Kasese Municipality. Half of the school was swept away in 2013, and the other half in May 2020 when River Nyamwamba burst its banks again. 


“We lost our school, which until then had been a model school because it had some of the best facilities and systems in the district,”

the head teacher Joseph Kule laments.” 
high performance tents, emergencies, education in emergencies, tent, education, Kasese, flooding, Uganda, UNICEF tent, emergency supplies, UNICEF supplies, children, learning, primary school
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Wamala

In the wake of the floods, the school relocated to a new site about 100 metres across from the former location. With government support, the school converted three abandoned Kilembe mine workers quarters into classrooms. UNICEF also provided emergency education support, including tarpaulin tents to serve as classrooms. 

One of the tents stands out from all the others. From the outside, it looks like a four-walled house with a double-layered roof. On the inside, it is a classroom with six windows on either side, as well as an entrance and an exit. This is the new high-performance tent developed by UNICEF to act as a classroom. Tom Akoko, the UNICEF Supply Assistant in charge of installing the tents, notes that the tent was purpose-built to enable continued service delivery in education, health, nutrition and child protection in emergency situations. It has distinct features such as hard flooring for hospital settings, solar and electrical, three layers of flaps, lighting, and all-around ventilation, which is a favourite at Bulembia Primary School. 

“It is difficult for my class children to pay attention when it is too hot, so the aeration keeps them alert, which positively impacts their performance,” Lillian Nukaru, the Primary Two class teacher, says while pointing at the air vents at the side and on the roof. When it rains, a plastic flap keeps out the rain while still letting in light due to its translucent material.

high performance tents, emergencies, education in emergencies, tent, education, Kasese, flooding, Uganda, UNICEF tent, emergency supplies, UNICEF supplies, children, learning, primary school
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Wamala
high performance tents, emergencies, education in emergencies, tent, education, Kasese, flooding, Uganda, UNICEF tent, emergency supplies, UNICEF supplies, children, learning, primary school
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Wamala

At Bulembia, the high-performance tent also serves some unintended purposes. When the floods washed away the school, it wasn’t just the buildings that were swept away; textbooks, desks, teaching materials and even school records were also lost. This meant that when Bulembia Primary School reopened in January 2022, nearly everything had to be re-started from scratch. 

“We have learned to improvise,” the headteacher beams, pointing at the wooden box packaging for the performance tents, which have been converted as seats and desks for the children. In the Primary Two class, six children are seated on each of the four boxes during their literacy class. When the teacher asks them to write down the names of people at home, they turn around, place their green exercise books on the wooden boxes, and while kneeling down, write out varying answers; ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘sister’... 

During lunch break, some children lie down and sleep on the plastic carpeted floor. Eight-year-old Harriet looks up and smiles shyly, speaking in short sentences, “I like my class because it is good. I like my teacher because she teaches me.” 

Twelve-year-old Fiona sits in the learning tent taking class notes on value placement in the mathematics lesson, she glances up with a smile.  

“I like this classroom, it is smart. I also like the windows and the fresh air.”

At Kihara Primary School, in Nyamwamba subcounty, Kasese District, children had this to say about their new classroom.

“Nganzire klassi eno.” – “I like this class.”

“Nganasheka omu.” – “I can sleep in this class if I am tired.”

“Erikungula e klassi kihobire” – “Opening this class is so easy.”

high performance tents, emergencies, education in emergencies, tent, education, Kasese, flooding, Uganda, UNICEF tent, emergency supplies, UNICEF supplies, children, learning, primary school
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Wamala

At the end of the class day, Teacher Nukaru, accompanied by two children, carefully unstraps, lowers and zips each of the window flaps, the front and the back exits. She is one of five teachers responsible for operating and maintaining the tents, but she also engages the children in this duty. “They are curious and will touch the tent either way, so I ensure that they know how to handle it with care,” Teacher Nukaru says, adding, “we open and close the tent together and keep away sharp objects so as to protect our classroom.” The new tents each accommodate an average of 82 children at Bulembia Primary School. “My learners also now have better spaces for learning, especially in light of the COVID-19 social distancing requirement.”

So far, seven schools in Kasese are set to receive the new tents, including Nyamwamba,where the classroom roof was blown off by strong winds and Kihara where two classes were being conducted under trees. 

“These new high-performance tents are part of our commitment to ensure that every child continues receiving an education, even in emergency contexts,”

the UNICEF Supply Assistant concludes. 
UNICEF Uganda/2022