EDUCATION

First Buddhist Primary School opens in Uganda

The school offers free education to its pupils—especially those from within the local community (PHOTO /Courtesy)

The Uganda Buddhist Centre, led by the first Ugandan-born Buddhist monk Venerable Bhante Bhikku Ugandawe Buddharakkitha, has announced the official opening of the nation’s first Buddhist primary school.

“[This will be a school] where people learn to train their hands, to train their heads, and also to train their hearts through meditation,”said Ven. Bhante Buddharakkhita.

“At the moment, 24 children are enrolled in our Kindergarten Program, aka Peace School, the Uganda Buddhist Centre shared. “The kids range from 3–5 years old and are from the surrounding area called Bulega. We are funding three full-time teachers and two staff members to cater for everyone and maintain the classrooms.” (Uganda Buddhist Centre)

The school, which offers free education to its pupils—especially those from within the local community—was officially opened in March by Thailand’s ambassador to Kenya, Sasirit Tangulrat, who was visiting Uganda to present her credentials to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

“The aim of the Peace School is to provide education in an ethical learning environment so that children can become conscientious citizens,” the Uganda Buddhist Centre explained. “The school aspires to offer a mindfulness-based education that will contribute to inner and outer peace and care for the natural environment. The school is grounded in a Buddhist perspective but also teaches traditional African ethics and values, such as the philosophy of Ubuntu, explained as ‘the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.’” (Uganda Buddhist Centre)

The recent primary school opening is not the Thai ambassador’s first interaction with the Uganda Buddhist Centre. In August 2020, Tangulrat commended Ven. Bhante Buddharakkhita’s commitment to sharing the Buddhist teaching in Uganda during a visit to the center:

“I am so happy that Buddhism has travelled far away from Asia to Africa. Actually, Buddhism has a played a very important role in the Thai society. Buddhism is not only a religion, but also a way of life. It is a way that teaches us how to work and walk the path to liberation. I believe that the Uganda Buddhist Centre will serve Uganda and the Thai community here the same way the Thai Temples do in Thailand. I want to assure you that the Royal Thai Embassy in Nairobi and the Royal Thai Consulate in Uganda will give support to the spread of Buddhism in Uganda. [Furthermore] I am very happy to hear that Hon. Barbara Mulwana the Honorary Consul who is part of the Royal Thai Embassy in Nairobi has continually supported the Uganda Buddhist Centre. . . . Today, the Uganda Buddhist Centre can play a big role to connect the Ugandan people to the Thai people through Buddhism. Thank you so much Venerable Bhikkhu Buddharakkhita.

The Uganda Buddhist Centre, the first and only Buddhist center in the African nation, was established in the city of Entebbe in 2005 after Ven. Bhante Buddharakkhita returned to his homeland from India. He had been working toward a bachelor’s degree in commerce in northern India, when an encounter with some Buddhist monks from Thailand was to change the course of his life forever, Ven. Bhante Buddharakkhita recalled:

I stayed in India from 1990–94, before traveling to Thailand to explore their culture and Buddhism from 1995–98. Finally, in 1999, I received an opportunity to travel to the United States, where I met my Burmese preceptor, the late Ven. Sayadaw U Silananda, at Tathagata Meditation Center in California, under whose guidance I commenced my monastic training. Eventually, in 2002, I took full ordination at the same Buddhist center.

Along with monastic education, monks at the Uganda Buddhist Centre are trained in computer literacy to help them meet the modern world on an equal footing.

“I’m teaching Theravada Buddhism with African flavor to ensure people understand the Lord Buddha and don’t see it as something weird, foreign and Asian,” Ven. Bhante Buddharakkhita told The Guardian newspaper in 2020.

“I see a lot of people suffering in Uganda and Africa. I find this role [of a Buddhist monk] as a game changer, or a paradigm shift from suffering to happiness in Africa. We have about 3,000 Buddhists in Africa. About 35 Ugandans. South Africa has the highest number because many people who came from Asian countries to work in the gold mines ended up establishing temples.”

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