Starting with just three teachers, 30 pupils, 30 chairs and no single table, Ms Barbara Ofwono Buyondo started Victorious Schools which sit on four campuses in and around Kampala.
She initially mobilized sh1m and started a kindergarten in an old three-bedroom house in Old Kampala. With the help of funds from a cooperative saving scheme and banks, she has slowly built her small kindergarten into multi-billion shilling business with over 3000 pupils.
Flavia Nassaka of the East African Digest talked to her.
Q: When did you first get a thought of starting a school?
Buyondo: “I am passionate about children and I know I have a calling for children. Being a teacher, I discovered that in the area of kindergarten there were only old, unqualified teachers who were handling our children.
I am a qualified secondary school teacher but I felt I should go to the kindergarten so that teachers who are qualified should start handling children because early childhood is very important.
Q: What inspired you?
Buyondo: It was the lack of qualified teachers in the kindergarten for I saw a gap that needed to be filled.
I used to volunteer at Watoto Church as a Sunday school teacher but as a taught I used to see us giving love to the children. It was then that I started moving to kindergarten schools where I realized that most of these teachers were at retirement age and couldn’t therefore provide the best for the young souls.
Realizing that it would be a good business venture due to the uniqueness and the fact the few kindergartens in place were not providing quality childhood education, I decided to start small in 1999.
Q: Many women out there have the ideas but have failed to actualize them.
Buyondo: Many people discouraged me that it wouldn’t work out but a few encouraged me. I had to stand all the intimidation because I had a vision to become great. Very many people despise women and I encountered this challenge even when I was looking for a loan in banks because people undermine women for they know most women have no personal property to give in as security.
I realized that challenge when Victorious was still a sole proprietorship and because of this , I had to open up for men to come on board because I saw the vision I had was big and I needed more brains into the business so that we can achieve great things. Now Victorious is a limited liability company with other directors on board though I am the vision bearer of Victorious Education services.
Q: Acquiring land in the city center is not an easy thing. How did you get this spacious place?
Buyondo: Back in the 1999, getting a place to rent wasn’t that easy but I managed to get a three bedroom house where I rented at first. As the number of pupils increased, there came need for more space. I asked brokers to look out for a spacious place to house an establishment as big as a school. In 2001, I got a plot of land on Namirembe Road but numbers kept increasing and it was near the road. In 2004 we got a bigger place at Namirembe road but my vision was not for being in rented places because of the risk of being evicted any time. I kept looking out until I got six acres near the city center where the primary school and a kindergarten are located now.
Q: How do you hope to preserve the school’s standards?
Buyondo: We are a value-based institution that we stand to defend God’s name. Whatever we do, we try to exhibit God’s view. Our aim is to keep improving and so whatever we do today, we aim to perfect it tomorrow.
Minding about team work, integrity and time management are essential things that have kept us going.
Apart from what is on the curriculum, we teach our pupils to practice values such as integrity, truthfulness so that when they later join the job market, they’ll make a difference.
Each week, we get a theme that we zero on and teach them all the details about a particular theme.
Q: How do you motivate your staff?
Buyondo: I’ve tried to live an exemplary life. Am a woman but in my staff, men are the majority but they respect me because they know that am a good team leader. I consult them on issues I cannot handle so we do everything as a team. With this they look at me more as a colleague than a boss. We all reason at the same level.
Q: What do you think is missing in the Uganda education system?
Buyondo: To me education starts from homes. As an educator I’ve realized that education at home is low considering the busy schedules of parents. Most parents think their responsibility in the child’s education is looking for school fees. They think the school is supposed to teach children everything which is wrong. There are vital aspects that are missing in children for instance discipline which is necessary even in the job market. However much you excel with no discipline, you’ll always be eliminated my employers.
Q: They say successful women don’t make good wives. Does this apply to you?
It’s a very wrong allegation. I am a happily married woman to a man who understands and supports me. The reason some women tend to abandon marriage when they become successful is the fact that some men tend to compete with their wives in earning.
Women need to balance work and family. When I go home, am a wife and I have the boss of the house but when I get to work am a boss. However busy I get, I have to spare some time for my family.
Q: What advice can you give a woman you inspire out there?
Buyondo: I want to encourage women that on the job market, they will not employ you whether you are a woman or a man. They’ll give you a job because of what you can do. In the world today, it’s equal competition. We have to get skills, thereafter we have to put the skills into use.