By Muduku Derrick Brian
Acaye Innocent Oscar has always had a supportive father who paid his tuition fees and provided money for upkeep on time. It was the reason in 2018 that he applied for the Bachelor of Science in Economics and Statistics course at Uganda Christian University (UCU).
All was well as Acaye reported to university. However, hardly two years into his course, his source of funds got cut off. “My bread winner got another partner and started to prioritize another family at the expense of ours,” Acaye said.
Acaye said he did not just lack the money for tuition, but also was “hungry most of the time,” something that he says started to affect the level of his academic output.
He wasn’t alone. He is among 100 UCU-Mukono campus students existing mostly on water at any given point in time. When members of the UCU community discovered that some students like Acaye who live in hostels go without food because they cannot afford daily meals, they created the food bank through the Chaplaincy office. This act coincided with the Lent period, when Christians, in preparation for Easter, fast and give alms.
The Rev. Canon Eng. Paul Wasswa, the Chaplain at UCU, says that the food bank was introduced “to stand with students especially those who sleep in hostels and run out of food from time to time.”
Wasswa adds that students with challenges of food are more easily compromised and end up in relationships they are not prepared for, just because they “want to survive.” He says once people get to know of the desperate situations of such students, they begin to involve them in sexual immorality and drugs in exchange for food.
For Acaye, his downward spiral away from his goal to be a data analyst started in 2020, when his financial situation forced him to take a dead year. As others frowned over the closure of learning institutions in 2020 due to the ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, to Acaye, it appeared to be a blessing in disguise. He expected to use the closure period to collect some money for tuition. However, the effect of the lockdown on the economy did not give him a chance to earn anything meaningful to use for university expenses. Acaye accumulated debts at UCU from the previous three semesters.
According to Wasswa, though the idea of the most recent food bank came up during Lent, the collections are expected to continue beyond the Easter season. For now, all collections towards the food bank are deposited with the chaplaincy. From there, needy students go and sign for whatever food items are available.
When Acaye went to the chaplaincy to collect his portion, he says he was given “two kilograms for each package of rice, beans, maize flour and sugar.” He also got two packets of spaghetti.
This is not the first time that the office of the chaplain is coordinating a donation of food to students.
In July 2021, students who got stranded in hostels during a government-ordered Covid-19 lockdown were given food. Each student received a food pack containing beans, sugar, maize flour, salt and soap. A pack was valued at sh23,000 (about $6.5).
“When we got a report about students who are stranded in hostels and in need of food, the chapel council raised some money to help them out,” Wasswa said last year. The Chaplain has been praying ever since for contributions to help these neediest students.