Q&A with Steve Hurd of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust


Steve Hurd is chairperson of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, our current Education beneficiary. Our Q&A series continues as Steve answers questions submitted by our members. (Photo: Deo Ssekitooleko and Dan Senku of the Uganda Humanist Association with Steve Hurd)


Q  I am intrigued by what I’ve read about Deo Ssekitooleko of Uganda Humanists. Can you tell me more about him and his work? — James W.

A  I first met Deo in 2006. He was Chairman of the Uganda Humanist Association (UHASSO) at the time and he invited me to lunch with the committee. He explained that he found out about Humanism in 2003 at Makerere University. His first action was to write to Paul Kurtz who sent him a large number of books, which became UHASSO’s Paul Kurtz library.

His next action was to invite IHEU to hold their international congress in Uganda, which they did in 2004. By that time his friend Peter Kisirinya (current Chair of UHASSO and of the Uganda Humanist Schools Association (UHSA) was starting to establish the first Humanist school in a rural location near Masaka. Thus the Isaac Newton High School became the first humanist school in Uganda – and it was entirely self financed. This was followed in 2005/6 by the Mustard Seed School opened in Kamuli by Moses Kamya, a university friend of Deo and Peter. Funding for this came from readers of the “New Humanist” magazine.

In February 2008 Deo used funds from IHEU and a UK charity, which was the forerunner of the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust to establish the Humanist Academy. Today the three schools are providing liberal-secular secondary education to over 400 students from impoverished rural homes, many of them single or double orphans from AIDS and other causes.

Deo is now the East African representative of IHEU. He is trying to foster the establishment of local Humanist groups throughout East Africa, while still very actively involved in the Humanist Academy. You can read reports on the Humanist Academy and the other Humanist Schools in Uganda on www.ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org.


Q  Has there been local religious opposition to the presence of Humanist schools? — Leigh-Ann F.

A  To talk of opposition would be overstating the case, but here are two anecdotes.

The local imam who heads the Moslem school close to the Isaac Newton High School made a visit to Peter one day. He said “I have come to enquire about your sign.”

He wanted to know what the word “secular” meant and why the school motto was “to reason, not to believe”. After Peter had shown him round the school he left saying “I now understand, yours is a school without God.” So he clearly got the message!

A second story relates to the Mustard Seed School, where the local Catholic priest claimed the right to preach in the school each week. Moses Kamya, the Director, said he would have to put this to the school board which rejected the idea. However, one day when Moses returned to the school he found the local priest preaching to the students. He led the priest from the school and, as a “reward”, the catholic church restricted the school’s access to the water pump that was in the compound of the catholic church. They can only now draw water at night. 

Q  Does IHEU have plans either for additional schools in Uganda or to duplicate this model elsewhere in the world? — Moses N.

A  IHEU does not have any schools in Uganda. They gave Deo Ssekitooleko an initial grant of £20,000, which allowed him to buy a piece of land and left £5000 to build the walls of the first classroom block. Supporters of the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust provided the money for the roof, to construct furniture and buy books and learning materials. But the school is an independent charity (“not-for-profit” company).

IHEU has also paid for a building which, when completed, will be used as a science lab in the Isaac Newton High school. They have also helped the Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed schools to buy some of the land they use.

Uganda Humanist Schools Trust has helped the schools come together to establish the Uganda Humanist Schools Association which provides a framework for the growth of a network of Humanist schools throughout Uganda and new schools are currently applying to join the group. Details of the association can be found here: https://www.ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org/association/aims.htm.

The future of the Humanist schools movement in Uganda is firmly in the hands of the founders. IHEU sowed the idea and provided some important seed corn funding. The school Directors have pioneered, though UHSA, a structure that can be replicated in other countries, but they will for some time need support from fellow humanists from around the world.