For over 20 years, Circle of Peace School (COPS) in Makindye, Uganda, has provided a learning experience for underprivileged children in Uganda who would otherwise not receive an education.
Circle of Peace International (COPI) is a US-based 501c3 nonprofit organization established in 2010 to assist Circle of Peace School in meeting the educational needs of its students.
Joanita Senoga, the founder of Circle of Peace School, was forced to flee her homeland in 1996 due to persecution. On her voyage to the United States her belongings were stolen and she found herself in Richmond, Virginia penniless and without any contacts. Through perseverance, hard work, and assistance from Trinity Episcopal Church, Joanita built a new life for herself, earning advanced degrees at the University of Richmond and acquiring US citizenship.
In her absence, Joanita’s family stepped up to run Circle of Peace School. Joanita never forgot the students there, despite her own vulnerable circumstances. She regularly sent what funds she could spare to care for the children at Peace School. As she talked with friends and colleagues in the US about the school, some of them contributed funds to help with specific needs. These friends encouraged Joanita to start communicating publicly about the school and the opportunity to assist some very deserving children with their education.
In 2009, a group of supportive people began meeting at the University of Richmond to assist Joanita in raising funds for COPS. Circle of Peace International (COPI) was created and registered in 2010 as a nonprofit corporation in the Commonwealth of Virginia with tax exempt status. COPI is currently governed by a Board of Directors that meets monthly, whose mission is to supports the school financially, establishes links with schools in the U.S., provide opportunities for Americans to volunteer at the school, and help the school set up profit-making businesses in order to become self-sufficient.
Uganda is among the poorest nations in the world. More than half of the population survives on less than $2 a day, and 90% of the country lives without electricity or running water. Officially, primary education in Uganda is free, but students must pay an annual fee to cover the cost of books, uniforms and classroom supplies. Children who cannot pay are not allowed in school. Only 20% of male children and 17% of female children are educated past the seventh grade. Child labor and exploitation are common.
At Circle of Peace School in Makindye (a suburb of Uganda’s capital city) about 200 boys and girls from preschool through grade seven receive the education that they would otherwise be denied because they are unable to pay the required public school fees. Students live in a safe and nurturing environment where they can realize their full potential and develop as people who experience human rights and fundamental freedoms. The school is run by its founders, the Bbaale family. Classes are taught in English. Circle of Peace School serves children of all faiths; both Christian and Muslim students attend.
Thirty orphans and underprivileged students reside in a boys’ dormitory and a girls’ dormitory on campus. The school provides for all their needs: housing, food, clothing, medical care and emotional support. Approximately one-third of the pupils have at least one parent who is deceased or ill from HIV or AIDS. Without COPI, they would have no home, food or education. Most of the school’s students commute from home.
Circle of Peace School is governed by a board of directors which reports to the Ugandan Ministry of Education. Despite meager conditions, the school’s students do very well on required national tests and also are extremely well-behaved.
Circle of Peace School receives no government funding. It is primarily supported by the selfless commitment of the Bbaale family, headed by Aminah Bbaale, the family matriarch. Five of her daughters and three of her sons, as well as other relatives either work at the school or provide for it financially. Families of the students contribute what they can toward their child’s education, and the school generates operating income from a poultry farm and car wash business. The school relies on the generous donations of international supporters.