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The Woman Behind Taibah International Schools: A Chat with Mariam Luyombo

Belinda Katumba

12 Apr 2022

Mariam Luyombo is an educational entrepreneur and the founder & director of Taibah International Schools.

Mariam Luyombo is an educational entrepreneur and the founder & director of Taibah International Schools. She has also served on various boards and is the recipient of various awards including Uganda’s Golden Jubilee Medal, and was once nominated as one of Africa’s Most Influential Women by CEO Global.

As we continue to celebrate women this week, we had a chat about her journey as a teacher and entrepreneur, and got some advice on navigating the world as a woman.

Tell us about your journey of starting Taibah International School as a young woman. Did you face any challenges? Why did you decide to start the school?

I had always been very passionate, as a child. And as a young person, I was very passionate about teaching. So I went to the University, did my teaching course, but I couldn't find a job as a teacher, yet I had the time. So I volunteered to teach at St. Joseph's. And I think one year into that volunteer position, I realized that the school was oversubscribed, and people were really having a difficult time.

So I told my husband that since he had a three bedroom house, can I start a school there? He thought it was a bit strange. But I said, “School is the only space kids have." And so he said if you think it will work, make it work. And so that's how we started the first of the Taibah schools in 1991.

What challenges as a young woman? Actually, that's the beauty of being young. You are very idealistic. And so I think you don't overanalyze problems. I didn't think at any one time that being a woman was an issue. I just went for it, you know, say like, Okay, now this is what I need to do - I need to get the license, who do I need to speak with.

So if they were problems that were pertinent to my being a woman, I probably was, maybe too naive to recognise those. Because I would just look at the problem and say, “this is the problem that I face.” So I know that we do go through problems, find it more difficult. But this is what I need to do about this or I need, you know, this is what we're going to do.

So if it did play a role, or if I had a disadvantage, I probably didn't notice it. I was too excited and passionate about what I was doing.

Pioneer students of Taibah International School
Pioneer students of Taibah International School

Which woman has been the most influential in your life?

Most Influential - I think I'd go back to my mother. She gave me a very good work ethic. And I think I could learn from her. We were a comfortable family. When we were home, on the weekends, we were expected to work. And I remember my mom telling us the house help needs to be off sometimes as well. So, you know, we developed a strong sense of responsibility very early on. So yeah, I look a lot to mum.

What advice would you give to young women today?

I think that the biggest advice that I want to give is to start by being comfortable in your skin. Don't try to be anyone else. Don't try to become something else for somebody else. Just say, “this is who I am. And I am not perfect. But guess what, I love myself. And this is where I'm going, or this is who I want in my life.” And then go for it.

I think it has to start with you. accepting who you are, and knowing who you are, and loving who you are. I think that's a starting point. Once you have that, as a foundation, I think you'll be okay with relationships. You can say this is good for me. This is not. You can say, this is where I'm going and you have the confidence to go for it. I feel that that's the foundation that young women need.

A lot of students have gone through your hands over the last 20 years. What has teaching taught you?

I think one of the biggest things is that it's a privilege to be a teacher.

I don’t want to call it power, but you have so much power. You have so much ability to make huge differences in people's lives. And I think that that's a privilege. And so as a teacher, and this is what I urge all teachers to go into that classroom every day, knowing that you can light a torch for these young people.

And that's what I've done. And many years after teaching, somebody will come up to me. Like recently I was in the US in an airport, and I didn't expect anyone to know me and somebody comes in and says, hey, this is what you taught me. And of course, they're so changed, I don't remember them. And you know, it's moments like those, that I say teaching is such a privilege, and that we must never squander that privilege. Children want to learn. It's our responsibility to make sure that we help them to love to learn, because that's what you need for the rest of your life.

Mariam Luyombo addresses students at Taibah International School

What is one book you think everyone should read?

Because I'm such an avid reader, I read so many books. So if you asked me about business, about relationships, this is the book. But I think that the book that I think everybody should read is Dale Carnegie's old book, How to Make Friends and Influence People.

I mean, if you read nothing else, just read that book. It's stupidly simple. Most of the work we do is human relationships. All of the friends we have, the family we have, are human relationships. And if you just go back to that book, I think it makes it easier. Does it become perfect? Or do relationships become less challenging? No, because it's human beings. But I tell you, that book has worked wonders for me and I recommend it highly. But like I said, I'm such an avid reader I could recommend books to read, depending on where you're at.

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