Uganda: Barbara Ofwono Buyondo – Built a school empire out of passion
Fifteen years ago, Barbara Ofwono Buyondo lost the only job she loved yet she had helped in its establishment.
This happened when the proprietors’ of the former kindergarten decided to sell it off. Tough as it was, the then 25-year old Buyondo did not did not bury her head in the sand.
“I could not let my passion end just like that even when I moved on; I promised to start my own kindergarten,” she recalls.
As a believer, prayer and God’s guidance kept her strong despite her inability to see her dream live on because of the little resources she had then.
“It was not an easy journey –I didn’t have enough money nor did I have the money to buy off the former kindergarten. But I did not give up,” she adds.
In 1999, Buyondo’s dream came to reality. Using the little personal savings and contributions from her family, she put together about Shs1 million to start a new kindergarten.
She used part of the money to rent a three bed-roomed house in Old Kampala.
“At that time; I would pay Shs150, 000 for rent every month,” she recalls.
She talked to a carpenter to make for her chairs, and a tailor who made for her the uniforms for the children, which she gave out free of charge.
Her first three classrooms had no tables for the children to use, but only the 30-chairs she made, an office table and a chair for the principal and a bed which was to be used as a sickbed plus the three blackboards for each class.
Together with two other teachers, Buyondo started a kindergarten, she christened as Victorious Education Service with 30 children.
The school has scooped two awards; Investor of the year award 2012 and the 2012-2013 Nation Media Group Top 100 SMEs.
Buyondo has also passed on some of her traits to the teachers as one teacher relocated to the United States of America and the other, Sarah Nantumbwe is a head teacher at one of the campuses.
She has managed to look after her four children who have gone through Victorious; two in Senior Three, another is in Primary Seven and the last born who is in Middle Class.
She has also bought a car, land and plans to establish her own home.
In 2003, the business became a limited liability company, enabling her attract three board members.
“My partners have helped me to grow the business. I am a teacher. The other director is in administration and the third is into finance,” she adds.
Tips on succeeding in this business
For Buyondo, making it big in this business requires passion.
A professional qualification in teaching is an added advantage for any teacher.
Also, startups that are paying rent should be cautious about the agreements they sign with landlords to avoid exploitation.
Training and acquiring skills for the respective sections to invest in such as kindergarten, primary or secondary will also yield good results.
Stick to your goal. “Many people discouraged me saying people would call me a failure yet I was a trained secondary teacher with certificates in handling kindergarten and primary school.”
Buyondo urges parents to cooperate with the teachers to bring out the best values in their children.
Victorious started with about Shs1 million investment and currently, total investments in all the assets has reached more than Shs8 billion.
The business which started with three classes now has four campuses. It has grown from 30 children to more than 4,000 pupils in all the campuses and more than 5,000 children have gone through her schools.
The business’ annually turnover ranges between Shs3 to Shs5 billion. The school which started with three teachers now employs 400 people of which 200 are teachers and the rest are support staff.
Most of the teachers are primary school teachers that have been trained in handling kindergarten children as well.
Because of its expansion, the school introduced a bus service where they pick and drop children to and from school. Under this service, the school has a fleet of 12 buses; these involve two 67-seater big buses, one 57-seater bus and nine 33-seater coasters. When the school is overwhelmed by student activity that requires extra transport, other vehicles are hired to do the job.
“We have plans to procure five more coasters to help us cater for the expansion,” Buyondo shares.
Buyondo did not have the money to expand yet her first premises deterred many people from trusting their children there. Then Buyondo searched for spacious premises.
“When I went to Centenary Bank, I was asked to present security which I didn’t have,” she recalls.
In 2000, she borrowed Shs1.3 million from Watoto Church-Younger Workers Fellowship, Y Save Cooperative and shifted the school from the ram- shackled three bed-roomed premises to a better place at the roadside along Namirembe Road, a few metres from Pride Theatre.
“The Y Save loan helped me renovate the new premises which had more rooms  and space for the children to play,” she says.
The number of children grew from 30 to 100 at the new premises in less than a year. Before the year ended, she was forced to rent another premise in the neighbourhood with more space.
But one would wonder how she managed to grow the numbers yet within the neighbourhood there were more than three good kindergartens like Good Shepherd’s, Abraham (which collapsed) and then Kampala Nursery school?
She says as a Sunday School teacher at Watoto Church, parents entrusted her with their children. She, however, did not only depend on children from church alone. Buyondo also moved from home to home telling people that she had begun a school and asked them to entrust her with their children.
Seven-years later, there was more demand for her services from parents.
In 2007, Buyondo opened up Victorious Kindergarten Rubaga Campus at Bakuli. Surprisingly, Centenary Bank which had earlier denied her a loan back-tracked its decision.
“Centenary Bank gave me Shs100 million to set up the Rubaga Campus which had expanded from kindergarten to pre-primary,” she remembers.
In 2008, using a Shs1.2 billion loan, she started Victorious Primary School Divine campus. Because having a primary school without a field was difficult to manage, Dfcu Bank loaned her Shs700 million to acquire land.
“… For Dfcu to lend me the money, I had to deposit an installment of Shs100 million which Y save gave me and we acquired land nearby,” Buyondo adds.
Despite her negative attitude about a boarding school, the demand from parents to establish a boarding primary school pushed her to start one.
Together with the teachers and parents, they started planning the boarding school.
In 2013, using the Shs1 billion loan, this dream came to reality-Victorious Boarding Primary School –Ebenezer Campus in Mukono-Mbalala opened and currently has more than 400 pupils.
Buyondo has been at the helm of Victorious Education Services for the last 15-years.
But what has been the secret behind its success?
On a normal school day when the children are dropped to school you will not miss the positive connection between the teachers and children.
Being the principal of the schools has not stopped Buyondo from being a friend to the pupils.
Dealing with people has been a trial for Buyondo because of the differences in culture and attitude.
“Channelling them to understand what you want comes with a lot of hard work,” she said.
High interest rates on loans at 30 per cent is a challenge for Buyondo, considering that the loans must be repaid.
The overpopulated yet slummy neigbourhood of Bakuli in which she works has been challenging for Buyondo.
But the school has opened up its doors to them through community work and also allowing the community children to use the schools’ premises like the computer laboratory and classes for free.
By Dorothy Nakaweesi