Why are we building a secular humanist secondary school in Kanungu, Uganda?

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The rural village of Kanungu is located in the southeastern corner of Uganda, 60 miles from Rwanda, 10 miles from the volatile Congo, right next to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the critically-endangered Mountain Gorillas roam, eating fruit and termite larvae.

A secular humanist high school is being constructed in Kanungu, funded by the Brighter Brains Institute (BBI), a nonprofit organization I founded in 2013, and presently direct. "Brighter Brains Humanist Secondary School" is our major 2018 project, but it will only cost $5,600 to build the four classrooms, library, laboratory, kitchen, dining hall, girls dormitory, boys dormitory, and two latrines. Bricks are formed on the spot from the red clay under the lush jungle vegetation. Labor is mostly free, provided by parents eager to educate their children. Secondary school education is a rare opportunity in rural Uganda, enjoyed by less than 10 percent of children.

Our BBI representative in Kanungu, explains below:

"Brighter Brains Humanist Secondary School will give a secular education all students, including HIV/AIDS orphans, the needy and other vulnerable children. Secondary schools in Uganda admit students almost exclusively using test scores. Most students will likely not be admitted at all. Additionally, in rural areas there are often only private schools, where the tuition can cost up to $115 per year. This amount is beyond thereach of students from impoverished families. Brighter Brains Humanist Secondary School believes allchildren deserve equal education skills and rights. We want to provide thesame, amazing education to all of our students so we give them the best chanceto succeed." Thanks, Robert Magara

Why is our school “secular humanist”? Why are we offering a curriculum that ignores religion, in this fervently-devout nation? (The primary faiths are Anglicanism, Catholicism, Islam and “traditional African religion," i.e. "witchcraft.").

Kanungu's tragic history provides the answer.

Every American knows about "Jonestown" - the notorious 1978 Kool Aid-drinking murder-suicide that poisoned 700 disciples of the People’s Temple, ministered byJim Jones. Kanungu had a similar religious apocalyptic cult horror that was even worse…

In the year 2000, the "Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God" was well-established in Uganda, and centered in Kanungu. Led by the "prophetess" Credonia Mwerinde (who claimed to receive visitations from the Virgin Mary) and a Catholic priest named Joseph Kibweteere, the group's avid members delivered all their possessions to their leaders, confessed their sins, and crowded into a large church on March 17, to await the "end of the world." The wooden structure was lit on fire, burning the 1,000 occupants inside. https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1300270/kanungu-massacre-memoriesfresh.

Ever since then, religion has lost its appeal in Kanungu.

In Uganda, and throughout Sub Saharan Africa, religion can be a dangerous force due to insufficient education. Fundamentalist, literalist beliefs are strong here, especially when they’re combined with local superstitions. Uganda has been incessantly plagued by "religious" militias like the Lord’s Resistance Army (a heterodox Christian group that terrorized the north) and the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamic group with rumored links to the Taliban, Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda.

Kanungu seeks to avoid the conflict caused by opposing ideologies, and the tragedy of blind faith in destructive creeds. That’s why it has embraced secular humanism.

Brighter Brains Humanist Secondary School will offer a science-based, rational thinking approach to education. The "humanism" BBI promotes is defined by Africans as the "belief that humans cannot depend on 'God' or 'gods' for any gifts- to escape poverty, humans have to study hard, and work hard, together helping each other, to improve our lives."

This definition combines secular thinking with humanitarianism, and I am fine with that.

Hank Pellissier will speak about his organization’s activities in Africa on Monday, Oct. 1, in Luther's Valders Hall of Science Room 262 at 6 p.m.

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