A commitment to democracy guides Bridge School’s head girl Fatuma Namagala in the role that she took on last year.

Voted in by fellow students, Fatuma, 16, explains the spirit of co-operation that she has experienced since coming to the school two years ago. 

At Peas Bridge we work as a community. “Here, pupils are given an opportunity to help run the school.

Together with five prefects, Fatuma is part of a students’ court – the brainchild of school director Herbert Muruhura, who believes the initiative helps students feel responsible for their school and fellow pupils. Minor problems are discussed and dealt with by Fatuma and her team, then referred on to staff if need be.

“We can resolve many small problems between students,” Fatuma says. “Things like the theft of a pencil or teasing can all usually be sorted out by talking it through with those involved. If not, then we take the issue to staff and they may in turn discuss the matter with parents.”

She believes the atmosphere at the school is geared up to encouraging this democratic process. “Our teachers are friendly and supportive – they are our role models,” she continues. “We also have unique class arrangements. Often in class, we sit in groups to work and share ideas on subjects. It’s great to interact with each other in this way and it also helps our comprehension of English. You can really learn how to talk with confidence in a group.”

Fatuma’s position as a school leader is allowing her to do much to champion the girls at Bridge. “The boys at this school respect me,” she says, “I don’t fear them. I always advise all the girls around me not to allow anyone to cause them to feel second best. In my class (S4), we are many girls.

We have to feel proud of ourselves and develop the status of girls.

These leadership skills should stand her in good stead if she achieves her goal of becoming a teacher herself. “I love listening to how my teachers express themselves,” she says.

Home for Fatuma is Mbarara, over 60km away, where she lives with her single mother and three younger brothers. The distance means that she boards at school. It’s no hardship because she says she gets to speak English – which is also her favourite subject - all the time. “My mum is really proud of me, especially when she hears me speaking English so well,” says Fatuma. Her mum, who had to leave school after S2, works hard as a farm labourer to earn enough money to contribute to fees, but Fatuma is also lucky enough to have a sponsor.