By Mitch Pascal, Principle of Tuckahoe Elementary School
Profoundly Impactful. That is how I describe my experience visiting Uganda with REACH this summer. Having returned from 15 amazing days in Africa, which lived up to the clichéd “trip of a lifetime” description, I’ve reflected back on just what led me there.
As a first year principal at Tuckahoe ES in Arlington, VA, I was approached by a parent who has been involved with REACH, asking if we would consider partnering with an outreach school. I was aware of REACH and the partnership one of my colleagues had established years ago, but I thought this would be a great way to spearhead a project of my own, a way to start making my own mark on my school community.
I agreed to partner with REACH and Matuwa Primary School, not really having a sense of what that would entail. We started slowly, introducing the concept to our kids, having John and Joyce Wanda come and teach the students about Uganda and what life is like there for school children. Our students wrote letters to the students at Matuwa and were extremely excited to receive letters back in return. We raised money through an annual 5K event in which we participate, to help fund projects that Matuwa needed most.
This spring I was told that REACH was making a trip to Uganda, and “it would be wonderful if someone from Tuckahoe could go.” I immediately said, “Well, I would like that someone to be me!” And after working through the logistics, I had the privilege of traveling there this summer to visit our sister school.
Without a doubt, Matuwa is a school with tremendous needs. I spent time meeting with Head Teacher James, the faculty, the school management committee, and Manafwa District officials. What struck me most, however, was seeing the children. I was welcomed graciously and ceremoniously, receiving a handmade soccer ball, and for the first time in my life, a live chicken. James gave me an African name, Wekesa, which means “harvest.” He shared that not only did our support help them literally harvest in their gardens at the school, but we also were helping to harvest the minds and intellect of the students. I appreciated honor and the thought that went into this meaningful designation.
Helping to raise funds or support those in need can be deeply satisfying to the supporters, but I feel that often we never get to truly see the results of our efforts. At Matuwa, I saw the newly built kitchen that we helped provide. Knowing that students would now have the opportunity to receive a hot lunch every day was extremely gratifying. Bringing books to help fill the newly designated library was another experience I will always remember, and I anticipate those empty shelves will be full of reading materials as our next year gets underway.
As I prepare to get my own school year started, I find myself drifting back to the summer experience at Matuwa. As we look at our own initiatives I ask myself how can what we do support our sister school? How can our knowledge and practice help inform some of the instruction that takes place there? How can our students, so fortunate to have human and material resources at their disposal, learn to be global citizens and internalize the perspective of helping others?
These are some of the ideas I’ll continue to work with during this school year, having been profoundly impacted by the gratitude, generosity, and kindness shown to be by our friends in Uganda.
For information on how to support Matuwa Primary School through REACH email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.