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First UCU birding course students spread their wings

By Eriah Lule

Forty students who enrolled for the inaugural birding course class at the Uganda Christian University have flown the nest. The fledglings have fledged.  

The students, who have been studying since February 2021, graduated at a low-key ceremony held at Uganda Christian University’s (UCU) Nkoyoyo Hall on May 26. They were awarded certificates recognizing them as birdwatchers. The three-month course, taught as an evening program, was conducted at the UCU’s Kampala campus.

The course was made possible through a partnership between UCU and the Private Sector Foundation Uganda, where the university won a sh238 million (about $65,000) grant to train students, especially those pursuing the degree of Bachelor of Tourism and Hospitality Management.

The students were taught the economic potential of the birding industry, important bird areas in Uganda, professional bird guiding as a career, marketing bird watching locally and globally, establishing and running a birding tour company, as well as conservation and protection of bird habitats.

Birding course graduates and faculty

Uganda has more than 1,000 bird species, according to the African Wildlife Foundation, making the country one of the richest destinations for birding in Africa. More than half of the continent’s bird species are in Uganda. 

“We have a big gap in the tourism industry, but with such a training, the industry will grow faster,” Agnes Joy Kamugisha, one of the graduates, said.

“I had the opportunity to learn how to associate with my customers, how to develop good business ethics, bookkeeping and many other things that I believe when I put into practice, my business will live to see its 30th birthday,” she added.

Mary Kajumba, an official from the Private Sector Foundation Uganda, who spoke at the graduation ceremony, said one of the major aims of the agency is to equip citizens with employment skills and empower them to be able to set up projects that can solve the high level of unemployment in the country.

“Birding is one of the areas that doesn’t need much capital,” she said. “I am convinced we are training job creators and not seekers…We hope that this project is rolled out to other universities all over the country after being approved by the National Council for Higher Education.”

Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, the UCU Vice Chancellor, said the course fulfils his objective of imparting skills-based learning. 

“I didn’t understand the aim of the project at first, until I was given a lecture on how practical it was, fulfilling my long-term desire of creating skills-based courses, that can bridge the gap between the industry and the classroom,” Mushengyezi said. “I now consider this course a success, so we can now enroll more birders. 

He encouraged The Private Sector Foundation to keep “supporting us” so that UCU “can enroll more students.” UCU is the only institution of higher learning offering a course in birding.

Johnny Kamugisha, a professional birder and the CEO of Johnny Safaris, is optimistic about the impact of the birding project. 

“This project will produce professionals for our industry. I assure you that with such a course, we shall uplift the tourism industry in this country,” Kamugisha, one of the instructors in the course, said.

Assoc. Prof. Martin Lwanga, the outgoing Dean of the UCU School of Business, which supervises the implementation of the birding project, expressed gratitude that in spite of the challenges they faced, the first cohort has graduated. 

“Although we met different challenges, experts in the field of birding helped us design the curriculum, teach and mentor our students,” Lwanga said. 

The project was a pilot, to evaluate how effective the short course would be in terms of learning, access to reading materials, lecturers, mentors and field work. Although much of the course content was delivered online, occasionally, students went to the field.

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