The Building of The Unity High School Archive

I remember sitting and talking to Dr. Marina in her house at the end of October 2010 about what an amazing history Unity High School had and yet so little of it was apparent around the school. The students and staff alike were almost completely unaware of the legacy that they were inheriting and the tremendous efforts that had been made by their predecessors to bring the school to where it is today. Dr. Marina replied that it had always been her intention to address this and to restore the forgotten traditions and artefacts of its past to their rightful place within the public consciousness of the school.

Unity High School was at this point, riding the crest of a wave and celebrating academic success, ministerial support, staff, student and parental satisfaction to a degree that was itself a benchmark point in the history of the school. Dr. Marina had, for the first time since the tenure of Patricia Clague as Principal in the 1970’s, enabled Unity High School to claim, quite rightfully, to be the best and most successful school in Sudan. Although the school managed to struggle on through the tenures of Principals Michael Partington, David Treagust, David Black, William Strath and Barry Birch, the school never really reclaimed the trophy-position that Pat Clague had given to it. That is, until the arrival of Dr. Marina Hitchen. Like Pat, Dr. Marina saw within Unity a potential and a greatness that could, under the right circumstances, have been unstoppable. But that potential and that greatness were at least in part, predicated on its forgotten, dismantled and ignored history and the strivings of those who had built Unity and made it great in its early days.

The unearthing and rebuilding of Unity’s history was very much a part of Dr. Marina’s plan for the future success of the school. In celebrating and acknowledging the work of such people as Bishop Gwynne, AL Collard, Miss Wilson, Christine De Peyer, Miss Hepplestone and Patricia Clague; Dr. Marina hoped to enable the school to reflect not only on its roots in a great period of Sudanese educational history, but also to use that consciousness of its history to drive it forward to even greater success in the 21st century. A part of that plan, as I suggested to her on that evening at the end of October 2010, should be to build an online archive and to begin the process of researching through the schools documentation the life of the school in the years since it was founded.

It was a fascinating and often exciting time. Document after document from the Directors office revealed more and more of the life of the school from its early days as an all girls school and the endless picnics at the palace or at Gordon’s Tree, trips out on the Nile with Mrs Gordon and Mrs Forder, through to the formation of the old girls’ ‘Unity Club’ and the Khartoum Rangers, the students strike of the 1960’s and the struggles of Patricia Clague during possibly the most tumultuous period of Sudanese history in the 1970’s.

One of our early discoveries from all of this research was that Unity High School was not founded in 1902 as is claimed all over the schools letterheads and on the school gates to this day. This myth was propagated it seems by Principal William Strath who for some reason wanted to celebrate a centenary in 2002 that will not in fact happen until 2028.

As the research for this Archive went on during November and December 2010 and then on into the new year of 2011, it became apparent that the School Council, under the leadership of Bishop Kondo, were looking to replace Dr. Marina as Principal. The reasons were obvious to everyone. Prior to the arrival of Dr. Marina, the school had been leaking money like a sieve. It seemed that anyone and everyone that wanted a free hand-out from the school could walk in and get one. The staff regularly applied for ‘loans’ that were given on the tacit understanding that they would never be paid back. On more than one occasion, numbers of envelopes, stuffed full of bank notes were seen walking out the front gates under the arm of someone or another. Staff were given free rein to order all manner of unnecessary items for their personal use each year and senior staff were sent on paid-for holidays during term-time under the pretext that they were researching school trips – that then turned out, not surprisingly, to not be suitable for the students due to the exorbitant costs. All manner of personal expenses and bills were covered by the school. And then there was the Church. The Church that under the authority of School Council chairman Bishop Kondo, looted and raped the school coffers to the tune of millions of pounds sterling over the years. Unity High School was a gravy train to financial abundance for anyone canny enough to get themselves on the right side of the financial free-for-all. Except that is, for the students. It was the students that suffered in all of this. It was their fees that were being stolen and spent, not on their education, but on some (not all) of the staff that pretended to care about the students in their charge. Curiously, at the same time that these staff and members of the School Council were looting the student’s fees, the school, via the Director and the accounts department, were quietly looting the salaries and social insurance entitlements of these same staff for their own benefit. The school was frankly a financial disaster zone of theft, fraud, forgery, deceit, corruption and uncompromising moral turpitude. By the end of 2010, Dr. Marina had made significant inroads into plugging many of the financial leaks and the school managed to save $4,000,000. $4,000,000 it seems was reason enough for the School Council to want rid of the most successful Principal that they had employed in over 30 years. The gravy train was about to leave the station once more and the staff started to queue up at the Directors office for new ‘loans’.

On the evening of Dr. Marina’s contract termination, as we sat discussing the unchecked immorality and illegal activities of the School Council that had lead to Dr. Marina’s downfall, it became apparent that in my possession for use on the Archive were documents that I had as yet barely looked at, that somehow had a bearing on the authority of the Council in firing Dr. Marina. The documents had been prepared by Principal William Strath some thirteen years earlier and related to the schools Board of Trustees and their ownership, in Trust, of the school. On examination it became immediately clear that something very amiss had taken place in the school in 1995 under the Principal-ship of David Treagust; three years prior to the date of Strath’s documents. Thus that evening with Dr. Marina carried on until well past 4.30am the following morning, in discussion and examination of the documents, interrupted by constant bursts of incredulity at the audacity of the criminals (members of the School Council) that had clearly and blatantly forged, lied and cheated their way into the ownership of Unity High School. The Archive went on and more and more documents relating to the theft of the school surfaced, though none were, at that point published to the Archive.

The Unity High School Archive was always meant to be a celebration not only of the great things that had been achieved during the history of the school, but also the struggles that had taken place over the years to ensure the schools’ survival in the face of overwhelming and often difficult and unpredictable circumstances – Unity High School has had more than its fair share of these. As a history project, the Archive was an incredible success. Not only did it bring to life for the students and staff the personalities that had walked the classrooms and the offices of the school in previous decades, but it also became a living history, reporting and documenting every event as it occurred during the school year. The students loved it and were en masse, checking in to see the photographs and videos of themselves and their friends on a daily basis. Whole classes of them were logging in given a few minutes free reign at the end of a lesson. The Archive became a central part of the life of the school. But as the end of the academic year loomed, it became very clear that as a project it could not remain silent on the injustices that existed at the heart of the regime that controlled the school. Taken offline by the criminal Director Robert Boulos when it finally started to report on the corruption of the schools’ governing body, the Archive continued to collect and document the evidence of the crimes that had been perpetrated in 1995 and that were still going on. The battle for the soul of Unity High School was, by this time, well underway and behind the scenes many people were working hard to have the school restored to its former glory and the criminals removed from the premises and the life of the school for good.

Thus the Archive was cut loose, but in doing so was allowed to be put back online. Whilst many parents and students continued to check in to see the archived documents and photographs and to read the evidence against those that set themselves up as the owners and moral guardians of the school, it was now fully independent of the school and its regime. Nevertheless, for a brief, glorious moment, it was a beacon of all that was of value and of worth within the life of Africa’s premier educational institution. Although no longer formally linked to the school, except in the minds of those who have shared it, helped to build it and celebrated the schools successes with it, the Archive continues to carry the torch of all that makes Unity High School unique in the history of Sudanese education. It is the greatest historical document on the school and the people that have shaped it, ever produced.

Whether further documents and photographs will be added to the Archive or not, only time will tell. It no longer operates from within the school, which limits its ability to continue as a living history for the benefit of the students, but it can and will remain active from outside of the school; receiving comments, photographs and the memories of those who have spent a part of their life at Unity High School. The Principal’s Log Books are still in the care of Dr. Marina, awaiting their hand-over to the next Principal, as they are the owned-legacy of the school from one Principal to the next. It is hoped that in due course, Dr. Marina will allow the scanning and posting of Log Book number 4 to this Archive before it returns to Unity, which would bring it up to date. An empty page awaits it.

In her introduction to this Archive, Dr. Marina dedicated it to the founders of the school and all those who fought through difficult times to keep the school open. I would add to that dedication, Dr. Marina’s name. It was her wish, during her tenure as Principal, to emulate the educational success of Patricia Clague – the last great Principal of Unity High School. I think it is safe to say that Dr. Marina has successfully carried the torch that was passed by Pat Clague and almost dropped by so many in the intervening years. Whether that torch, which was lit by Bishop Gwynne so many years ago, will continue to be passed by other Principals, only time will tell. As of this date Unity High School does not have a Principal and its future looks uncertain. The crimes and corruption that this Archive has been so central in uncovering and reporting on are continuing.

Unity High School has come through many difficult times. It is to be hoped that it can come through this also and once more become the school that Bishop Gwynne, Miss Collard and Miss Wilson, Christine De Peyer, Patricia Clague and Dr. Marina Hitchen have worked so hard to realise.

Steve Gooch – 7th July 2011.

Update: Volume 4 of the Principal's Log Book was finally uploaded to the Archive today. This now completes the collection of Log Book entries made since 1902 by the Principals of Unity High School. It is hoped that the Log Book can now be returned to Unity High School, where Mr Richard Wood; the new Principal (from August 2011) would be able to continue recording the day-to-day life of the school for posterity.

Steve Gooch - 2nd April 2012.

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