As I was writing up business descriptions this morning, I was reminded of the importance of school fees in the lives of people here. I don’t think I’ve mentioned them before, and certainly not in any serious way.
There is no such thing as free education here, anywhere. It does not matter how poor you are or what school you go to, everyone pays school fees. And if you don’t have school fees, your children do not get an education. Period.
Without exception, every borrower I’ve talked to has mentioned school fees as a primary reason to need a loan, to need a profitable business. Even for those who don’t have children themselves, money is needed to pay school fees for younger brothers or sisters, or nieces and nephews, or somebody.
I went to a neighborhood restaurant for lunch the other day. I was the only one there, and my server, a young man maybe out of his teens, wrote a note for me explaining how he had had to drop out of school and is trying to get money together for school fees so he could complete his education.
The story isn’t so great for teachers either. Yesterday, I interviewed two women applying for loans. Both of them had been teachers. Both of them are now running a school canteen because that was more profitable than teaching. Not only is the pay very low, but it was often late, one told me. In a cash economy, late pay will get you nothing because there is no such thing as credit.
I don’t know how I would do it, but if I were setting up a program to help people in Uganda, it would have something to do with paying school fees.