Mathias Okwako mines gold in his old school uniform on the outskirts of Busia town in eastern Uganda. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

Mathias Okwako mines gold in his old school uniform on the outskirts of Busia town in eastern Uganda. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

With schools closed, students work alongside adults, including some of their teachers, at the mine. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

With schools closed, students work alongside adults, including some of their teachers, at the mine. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

A man displays a nugget containing gold dust at the gold mining site. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

A man displays a nugget containing gold dust at the gold mining site. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

Ugandans put mud they hope contains gold through a sieve. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

Ugandans put mud they hope contains gold through a sieve. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

Weeds grow in a classroom at the Mawero Primary School near Busia town, Uganda. The roof was destroyed during a storm just before the coronavirus lockdown and was never replaced. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

Weeds grow in a classroom at the Mawero Primary School near Busia town, Uganda. The roof was destroyed during a storm just before the coronavirus lockdown and was never replaced. (AP/Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

No School in Uganda

Posted: January 1, 2022

Dressed in his school uniform, Mathias Okwako jumps into the mud. Why? He’s searching for gold.

Mathias lives in Busia, Uganda. He is 17 years old. He belongs in school. But his school sits empty just across the road. Weeds grow in some classrooms!

Uganda’s schools have been fully or partially shut for more than 80 weeks during the coronavirus pandemic. No other nation’s schools have closed for such a long time.

Imagine you attend a school that suddenly closes for more than a year. You have no books to study. How will you learn useful skills to earn money as an adult? Mathias and other kids his age are losing their chance at education. Instead of going to school, they work in a swamp as gold miners.

For many kids around the world, school was interrupted during the pandemic. Most couldn’t go to school in person. Many parents had to scramble to find child care, or learn to homeschool on the fly while working at the same time.

In many parts of the globe, lessons moved online. Not so in Uganda. Uganda had major schooling problems even before the pandemic. Schools lacked qualified teachers. Many students dropped out before they graduated. When the pandemic came, the country couldn’t provide virtual schooling.

Uganda first shut down its schools in March 2020. That nation is now the only country in Africa where schools remain closed.

Teachers work alongside their former students in the swamp. A typical day of gold mining can bring in just over $2. That’s enough for a child to buy a pair of used shoes. Mathias purchased two pigs with his earnings. Other children also use the money to help look after their families. They often spend it on salt or soap.

Why is Mathias wearing his school uniform if there’s no school? He says he has nothing else to put on.

Pray: For Mathias and other children in Uganda. Ask God to send them everything they need to live and learn.

Why? “No school” may sound fun . . . but what if school was canceled forever? It’s important to recognize reliable education as a blessing.