Audrey Hepburn, an actress and humanitarian who spent much of her life helping underprivileged children across the globe once stated that, “Water is life…”. Now a widely accepted truth, Ms. Hepburn’s quote has become cliché to the average American who consumes 80-100 gallons of clean water each day.  Of course, “clean” is presumed in the U.S, making the remainder of Ms. Hepburn’s quote - “… and clean water means health,” a statement that is often overlooked by those of us who have easy access to clean water every day.

In Uganda, however, 33% of all children do not have access to clean, safe drinking water and 60% of all children live a minimum of 30 minutes walking distance from a water source which may or may not be clean. Furthermore, girls are more likely to be responsible for collecting water, keeping them from school more frequently. The lack of safe drinking water across Uganda contributes to the illness and death of countless children each year with diarrhea alone killing 33 children every day. Early childhood diarrhea is not only deadly, it also contributes to Uganda’s high level of stunted growth, which in turn affects children’s cognitive development and performance at school. (Source: UNICEF, Situation Analysis of Children in Uganda, 2015). The children attending Rock of Ages School (ROA) are at the heart of these statistics making the provision of clean, safe drinking water a priority for the students and a challenge for the school.

Though many children bring their own water to school, the source from which the water comes is often already contaminated. The student’s water may have come from rain runoff or from nearby streams or ponds or it may have been shared with animals such as local goats and cows. Regardless of where the students collect their water, it is rarely, if ever, adequately filtered. Furthermore, even if clean water is accessible, it is often brought to school in a tin or bottle that may be contaminated due to poor sanitary conditions in the student’s home.

At the beginning of 2015 Hands4Uganda (H4U) attempted to help ROA tackle the water issue by providing three TivaWater filters.

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One TivaWater filter provided enough clean water for 10 people per filter cycle.  The filtering cycle took approximately one hour to properly sterilize the water and each filter was filled three times throughout the day resulting in enough clean water for approximately 90 individuals per day.  

With over 300 students plus staff in need of water each day, ROA simply could not provide enough clean water to ensure proper hydration of the students and staff with the three TivaWater filters alone.  As a result, water continued to be taken directly from the tap or purchased from neighboring shops of which the source was often unknown, therefore leading to continued contamination and illness.

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By the end of 2015, through the generous contribution of a Hands4Uganda donor, ROA was able secure a three-level water filtration system that holds 450 liters of water – the Impact Water system!  This high-performance, water purification system fills automatically which is a bonus, however, the system fills from collected rainwater. During the raining seasons of April to May and October through December, the students and staff of ROA are able to enjoying clean, filtered water ensuring proper hydration, better school performance, and less illnesses. The dry season, on the other hand continues to provide a challenge.

With the construction of the new school facility beginning in the very near future, H4U has determined that the best option for being able to provide clean, filtered water to the students and staff of the school on a continual basis, without the fear of lack of water during the dry season is to provide the school with its own well! We are extremely happy to announce that Sundance Consulting from Pocatello, ID has provided a very generous donation that will allow us to complete the well by the end of the month.  Sundance also provided the funding that allowed H4U to build restrooms for the new school which are already complete. The well will provide clean water for not just the students and staff, but for their families as well! Our students will be able to attend school more regularly rather than needing to fetch water; we can continue to curb their hunger by growing and watering our own fruits and vegetables; and fewer illnesses will occur from water related diseases!

Thank you Sundance Consulting!

Food is a key component of culture and health and a great way to explore and connect with different societies. Here we discuss the primary foods found in the Ugandan diet and how your monthly contribution enhances the nutritional status of the students at Rock of Ages (ROA).

Foods of Uganda

Ugandan cuisine is primarily made from local and readily available ingredients. Foods are eaten seasonally with fresh produce from local gardens playing a key role in the majority of diets.

Nearly 90% of Ugandans rely on outdoor charcoal or firewood burning stoves for food preparation. Because cooking oils, such as animal fats and vegetable oils, can be costly food is typically boiled or grilled. Pot cooking is most common and a majority of dishes are made up of a protein centered soup or stew served over a filling starch.

Even at Rock of Ages School charcoal stoves are used to prepare student lunches.


Popular meats throughout the country include chicken, goat, and beef. However meat is too expensive for most families so legumes are often served as a main source of protein. It’s estimated that nearly 90% of all calories consumed each day by the population of Uganda come from vegetarian sources, meaning meat does not play a large role in the Ugandan diet.

Abdu Wasswa shows off some freshly picked beans that when harvested will be used for student lunches.

Despite the fact that nearly half of the largest lake in all of Africa, Lake Victoria, lies within the borders of Uganda, fish is not readily available throughout the nation. Often found on a stick and grilled whole, fish is most commonly consumed in the south, along the shores of the lake.

Lake Victoria is the worlds second largest fresh water lake and also the source of the Nile River.


Posho is the most popular starch in Uganda as it is inexpensive and simple to cook. Similar to polenta, posho is made from cornflour and will    take on the flavor of whatever dish it accompanies. Posho is also easily made at home as many families grow their own maize, grinding it at a local mill which can be found in nearly every village. Rice is served in the same fashion as posho but is typically reserved for special occasions as it requires more time and work to prepare.

Parents and students volunteer to help harvest maize grown on the ROA property and will be used for school lunches.

Cassava (also known as yucca) is another popular starch and when served with stew is generally cut into chunks and boiled. However, cassava can be prepared in many forms. Dried and pounded cassava can be used as flour.  When cut, sliced, and fried, it becomes comparable to french fries. Cassava is a hardy root and a dependable crop for many who grow their own food. Other common tubers that are prepared in the same ways as cassava include irish potatoes and sweet potatoes. Like other carb-filled foods, these starches are digested slowly, lending a feeling of fullness to the individual consuming them.

Betty Wasswa shows off a massive piece of cassava root, grown on the ROA property, and to be used for school lunches.

Lastly, matoke is a type of banana, similar to a plantain. Matoke is often served mashed, after being picked green, peeled, and steamed in its own tree leaves. Instead of being used to accompany a stew, matoke is more of a main dish and is served with a vegetable sauce or a sauce made out of groundnuts (peanuts) which are usually referred to as “g-nuts”.

Banana's harvested from the ROA property which hosts a variety of fruit trees. All fruit is used to supplement school snacks and lunches.


With the equator running through the center of the country, Uganda has a tropical climate which makes it the perfect environment for growing fruits. Over 84 varieties of banana, all of which are local to eastern Africa, grow in Uganda. As one can imagine, banana’s play a large dietary role due to their availability. From matoke (described above) to small sweet bananas that are considered a dessert, these fruits are a staple throughout the country.

An indoor market in Jinja, Uganda.

Other tropical fruits such as mangos and pineapples also thrive throughout most regions. Jackfruit is a large fruit that can grow to up to 80 lbs with a mature jackfruit tree producing up to 100-200 fruits in a single year! The many individual fruit pods within the jackfruit are edible and when ripe are sweet and chewy. The seeds are also edible and when roasted have a similar taste to chestnuts.

ROA students play in a jackfruit tree on the ROA property, showing a small jackfruit.

Jackfruit being cut and sold as a quick snack at the market.

Vegetables are not highly consumed throughout Uganda. Many do not understand the importance of vegetables, especially greens, in their diets. Variants of greens that are indigenous to the area such as amaranth and nightshade can be picked wild but are often viewed as a weed due to their bitter taste and are therefore given as feed to farm animals. Culturally, many vegetables are viewed as a “poor man's food” and many choose not to eat them due to stigma, opting for more popular and filling starchy options such as those described above. When greens are prepared they usually come steamed or collard- fresh salad is not a common dish.


Other common foods include chapati and samosas. Originating in India, these foods have become common in Uganda due to a large population of Indian immigrants to the country. Chapati is an unleavened bread traditionally cooked with wheat flour then pan grilled. Samosas are fried pastries with a flakey outer shell that are usually filled with spiced potatoes, lentils, and/or meat. These are more of a snack item and most popular in urban areas. A variety of bugs are also often eaten as snacks and depending on the region different bugs are more popular. Nsenene is green brown type of grasshopper that is found in many African countries. After it is caught the wings and legs of each grasshopper are removed and the rest of the bug is eaten after being fried.

A bag of Nsenene, fried, and ready to be eaten!


Nutrition profiles of children in Uganda

Many factors contribute to undernutrition in Uganda including poverty, poor access to food, a diet lacking in diversity, as well as cultural and social traditions. In Uganda, just under 40% of all children are chronically undernourished or stunted. Nearly ⅓ of all child deaths are related to undernutrition and those who continue to survive are at a high risk for infectious diseases, chronic diseases, as well as impaired cognitive development.

Micronutrients play a major role in overall health and when proper levels are not met a variety of health complications may occur. Due to a low intake of animal based foods as well as fruits and vegetables high in beta-carotene, vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affects 28% of children in Uganda. VAD can lead to blindness as well as an impaired immune system. Iron deficiency is even more common in children, with 73% estimated to be iron deficient or anemic which may lead to heart problems, an increased risk of infections, and motor/cognitive developmental delays. Such a high number of children suffering from iron deficiency is most likely caused by both diet and environmental factors. Most iron in the Ugandan diet is consumed through fruits and vegetables which is more difficult for the body to absorb than iron found in meat products. Parasitic infections such as malaria and hookworm, as well as chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS are very common throughout the country, contributing to the high number of children living with anemia. These two deficiencies and their accompanying complications are only a few in the vast array of nutrition related inadequacies that plague the children of Uganda.

How H4U/ROA helps improve nutrition in students

Understanding that most ROA students face food insecurities at home, the provision of food for all students is a priority of the Hands4Uganda program. Through sponsorship dollars all students are served porridge each morning. Students starting the school day with full tummies ensures that they will have the energy to fully participate in class and will be able to focus on their work.

Students in the nursery section enjoying their morning porridge. 

A typical lunch at ROA is comprised of beans (prepared with onions, tomatoes, carrots, and garlic) and posho with accompanying greens or fruits whenever they are available. We are doing our best to increase the nutrient intake of our students. The new school property is currently being used as a garden and is producing fruits and vegetables for student consumption.

A student in the primary section enjoys a hot bowl of beans and posho for lunch.

Once the new school is constructed there will be gardens throughout the property where fruits and vegetables will be grown for student consumption. We hope to develop an agricultural aspect to the ROA program so that students will learn to grow and tend to both fruit and vegetables that could improve their health as well as their familie's health.

Abdu Wasswa shows off a freshly picked cucumber from the ROA property that will be added to school lunches.

Through sponsorship every child at ROA is provided with food each day. We understand though that to have a greater impact on their overall nutrition, access to more than one full meal a day is necessary. To further the reach of sponsorship dollars we created a “Premium Sponsorship” option which provides a food package for your sponsored child's family at the beginning of each month. Instead of giving the extra funds directly to parents, administrators at ROA purchase food in bulk and distribute directly to student guardians. For families with as many as seven children, these monthly food packets ensure that students and their families have sufficient access to food at home.

A primary student with his mother and baby sister receiving their monthly food packet thanks to a generous sponsor. 

If you are interested in learning more about how you can provide monthly food to your sponsored child and their family please click here. If you would like to experience a ROA lunch of rice and beans check out this recipe for a very similar dish!


We are excited to bring you the first edition of “Did You Know” where we will provide on-going, in depth explanations of common questions and interesting topics related to the work and accomplishments of Hands4Uganda (H4U) at Rock of Ages School (ROA) in Mbiko, Uganda.

As the primary mission of H4U is to support the education of the children at ROA, in this first issue we offer information that will provide a better understanding of the educational structure of Uganda. In spite of the similarities between the Ugandan education system and that of the U.S., there are many differences worth noting. As members, sponsors, and supporters our goal is to help you gain an understanding of what is required of our students in order for them to be successful. Here we hope to share with you the impact that you are making by partnering with H4U and enabling the children of Mbiko to attend ROA.

Educational System

ROA students generally begin their school day at 7 a.m. and conclude at 1 p.m., 4:30 p.m., or 8 p.m. depending on their grade level. Unlike most elementary schools in the U.S which operate on a 10-month calendar with a summer break, schools in Uganda, including ROA, are managed on an 11-month calendar beginning in February and concluding in December. The Ugandan school year is divided into three terms with roughly a month long break between each term.

Similar to the American educational system, schooling in Uganda is divided into four parts which are nursery, primary, secondary, and university as illustrated below:

 NurseryElementaryJunior High/ High SchoolPost-Secondary
U.S.2-3 years: Preschool/


7 years:

Typically grades K-6

6 years:

Typically grades 7-12

College or University
Uganda3 years:

Baby Class, Middle Class, and Top Class

7 years:


6 years:

S1-S4: O-Level

S5-S6: A-Level

Degrees, diplomas and/or certificates

Unlike the U.S. however, Ugandan classes are not based on age and you will often times find classes with students who range significantly in age. This is due to the fact that children often drop out and re-enter school based on whether or not their families can afford to pay the school fees.

ROA primary classes begin with Primary 1 (first grade) and continue through Primary 7 (seventh grade). At the end of Primary 7 all Ugandan students must take their first national test called the Primary Leaving Exam (PLE). This is a high stakes test with the outcome determining which secondary programs the students will be able to apply to. The PLE tests four subjects including English language, mathematics, social studies, and science. Results are divided into four divisions with Division 1 being the best possible distinction whereby the student is eligible to apply to most any secondary school they choose. We are very proud to announce that all P7 students graduating from ROA have scored in Division 1 and Division 2!

Secondary school in Uganda is six years and is divided into two sections - O-Level and A-Level. O-Level includes years Senior 1-4. At the end of Senior 4 students must take a second national exam called the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE). If students pass this exam they are eligible to continue to A-Level which makes up Senior 5-6. At the end of their secondary career students take a final national exam called the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE). Students who pass the UACE are then eligible to apply to university where they can further their education and earn a degree, certificate, or diploma.

Alternatively to the six year O-Level and A-Level program, students may begin their secondary education at a technical school which generally lasts three years and continue their studies at a specialized technical institute. These institutes generally offer certificates in areas such as teaching, engineering, and other technical specialities.

Most secondary schools are boarding schools, requiring students to bring all of their personal supplies including mattresses, eating utensils, etc. creating a substantial burden on low income families who often have one mattress within their entire household. If a student is not in possession of all required scholastic and personal items by the first day of school, they are not allowed to begin classes.

Universal Primary Education

In 1997 Universal Primary Education (UPE) was introduced by the Ugandan government as a means of providing education to all children free of charge in order to reduce poverty and boost human development.

In the early years of the UPE movement there was a substantial influx of students attending Primary School requiring a significant increase in government spending in order for new schools to be built, teachers to be hired, and other scholastic materials to be purchased. Such an expansion in the number of students attending school without the proper infrastructure to support them quickly led to a steep decline in education quality including student- teacher ratios, student-textbook ratios, and student-classroom ratios. Classrooms holding as many as 90 students, shared textbooks, teacher shortages, classroom congestion and a lack of resources quickly led to low educational performance and high dropout rates.

Of the resources available for Ugandan education, most are allocated to urban schools, discounting nearly 83% of the population which reside in rural areas. Following the UPE implementation national studies concluded that despite massive amounts of government funding, only 35% of all money given to schools actually reached the intended beneficiaries. In addition, “free of charge” still meant that families were responsible for scholastic materials including notebooks, writing utensils, uniforms, and lunches. With nearly 40% of the population living on less than $1.25 USD per day an education was and still is unattainable.


With only 53% of students beginning Primary 1 and finishing Primary 7 most children in Uganda do not obtain a full education. Dropout rates have remained high for many reasons. Aside from cost, many students report that they do not return to school because they are simply not interested in continuing. This suggests that they are not stimulated nor inspired by their learning, most likely due to high student/teacher ratios and the inability of students to receive the attention they need to succeed. Teacher absenteeism is a major factor in disinterest of students and could account for the fact that in government schools, studies have shown that over half of the students enrolled in P6 can neither count nor write complete sentences.

In many areas children are often kept at home to help take care of younger siblings or to do daily chores as parents focus on work and the hard labor required for survival. Absenteeism is highly correlated with the agricultural sector as children are expected to help seed and harvest gardens and crops as well as help on market days with selling and buying.

In addition to labor, other common barriers that complicate a Primary education include the need for certain grade levels to be repeated. A lack of access to proper sanitation, especially for young girls beginning menstruation, keep students home and out of the classroom. Then there are also the very real issues of early pregnancy and childhood marriage which mostly impacts female student attendance.

Breaking Barriers

ROA strives to break down barriers and provide a quality education for the children of Mbiko. H4U strives to to ensure that all students attending ROA complete their education and are not only able to move on to secondary school but also thrive there. While we do see students leave ROA for various reasons, we try our very best to understand each situation and help return the child to school as soon as possible.

Through the H4U sponsorship program, children are able to attend ROA free of charge, eliminating the main cause for children not attending. The student to teacher ratio at ROA remains low with an average of 1 teacher to every 30 students so that students are able to receive the attention they need. Due to our student and teacher commitment to education we have seen a 100% pass rate for all students who have taken the PLE at the end of their P7 year with all scoring in the top two division showing that ROA students are ready to succeed throughout their higher education.

The staff at ROA requires parents to meet with administrators and teachers regularly. With parents who have a vested interest in their child’s education, they better understand the importance of regular attendance and absenteeism therefore declines. Children are also fed at school, ensuring that families do not need to worry about providing school lunches and students are able to focus on learning rather than the pains of hunger.

Keeping female students in school has been a high priority for ROA. Partnering with Days for Girls (, H4U has been able to provide every female student with reusable menstrual pads and an education about what menstruation means for them and their changing bodies which is not a common conversation in most schools. Through the normalization of the topic and provision of proper hygienic supplies as well as facilities, our girls no longer miss school due to their periods. In fact, 12 out of the 18 students that made up the 2017 graduating class at ROA were girls.

We are very pleased, that H4U has been able to fund the continued education of all ROA graduating students into secondary school and we are working on a program to ensure their successful completion without having to worry about the associated fees. We strongly believe that education is the foundation of a better future for the children of Mbiko, and we are so glad that you are a part of our continued success.

If you have questions or would like to see a specific topic addressed in one of our issues please let us know at the bottom of this page!

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