Sometimes even in our high tech world the closest bonds are formed through the simplicity of handwritten letters.
One hundred and eighteen, to be exact, which arrived at Monomoy Regional High School last spring in a tattered manila envelope that, once opened, began a correspondence between students from vastly different parts of the world who have since been learning that in spite of their unique home countries, they still have many similarities.
“It actually started last year,” said Elizabeth Hoff, a Spanish teacher at MRHS, who was contacted by Teddy Nabachwa, a teacher at the Kasubi Parents' Secondary School in Kampala, Uganda. “She said, 'We don't know you but here are 118 letters.'”
Hoff immediately set up a spreadsheet so students in her classes could sign up to correspond with one of the students from the Ugandan school, ensuring that each of the 118 would receive a reply to his or her letter.
Junior Molly Daley chose a student named Drake Kiyimgi, who included information about himself and his favorite sport along with another small piece of information that touched Daley's heart and set in motion a reply from Monomoy that went beyond a simple letter.
“In the letter he wrote that he played football, which I knew over there was soccer,” Daley said, adding that Drake confessed he couldn't play as he was lacking proper shoes. “I knew in my heart that I had to do something.”
Initially, Daley considered buying shoes for students herself, which moved Hoff to tears and also inspired her to act locally to help globally, securing grants from area businesses and organizations including Staples, WB Mason, Olympia Sports, and the Art of Charity in order to send to Uganda several boxes of school supplies and athletic shoes, the latter collected through Daley's MRHS shoe drive.
The generosity of the Cape Cod students overwhelmed those at the Kasubi School, a learning center created by parents as a means of ensuring their children received proper educations. While thriving in many ways, the unique economy of the Kampala region does challenge the school, so the donations of pens, paper, books, and other supplies were immensely appreciated.
“We were not expecting all those boxes,” said Nabachwa via Skype. “The students that were participating, they were so happy. They were trying on the shoes and opening up the books. Those things, they mean a lot. We are so grateful.”
Nabachwa said the shoes were given to the school's soccer club for use by all participating students.
“Every time they practice soccer they use those shoes,” said Nabachwa, who is excited to continue collaborating with Monomoy.
Through the letters, local students will learn about the different tribes those at the Kasubi School are from, and how such lineage influences their styles of dress, the foods they eat, and the languages they speak beyond English, which is the primary language at the school. Along with letters, Nabachwa and Hoff are hoping to utilize videos and occasional Skype calls to further connect the students.
“I believe that through the students writing letters they’ll get to know each other,” Nabachwa said. “I believe as we share videos and Skype calls between students they will be able to bond and ask questions and know each other more. We were looking forward also to possible exchange visits where teachers from your school can be able to come and see the daily activities of the school, what it means to be in Uganda, what a student in Uganda passes through, and what it means to be a student in Africa.”
Both Hoff and Daley are brainstorming ideas to raise funds to visit the African school. Meanwhile, Daley is continuing her correspondence with Ugandan schoolmates while fostering her philanthropic goals, which were fueled by a film she watched on the poverty in India. The film inspired Daley to make plans to join the Peace Corps upon graduating from college, through which she hopes to help those in struggling countries.
“That's just who I am,” she said. “I don't know how it's who I am. It just is. I just like helping people. In my heart it makes me feel alive.”
Daley's Uganda efforts were not her first foray into philanthropy at Monomoy. Prior to the shoe drive Daley organized a coat drive with Duffy Health Center in Hyannis for Cape Cod's homeless, which enters its fourth year this year, and with her sister Caitlin is planning fundraisers to benefit local families in need. She would love to get her school and home community involved.
“I really want to go with something that will stand out, that will make the school community and the community of Cape Cod want to help me,” Daley said. “I know I can do it by myself, but I want others to be in it. To realize when you do something for other people it makes you feel great.”
Both Hoff and Daley appreciate the collaboration with the Kasubi Parents' Secondary School not only for its ability to build bridges between different worlds, but also different races and ethnicities, something both believe deeply in.
“If we can have other schools doing this, connecting and bonding and having relationships with other countries in the world, I think that will show political leaders and regular citizens that we can all come together as one,” Daley said. “We are all humans and color doesn't matter. It breaks my heart that people don't like other people because of their color. It hurts my heart when I see people hating on other people. You shouldn't hate.”
Nabachwa's students expressed their own gratitude for the exchange, thrilled to connect with Monomoy students for a similar reason.
“Students tell me, ‘We only see whites in movies and now we have friends that are white!’” said Nabachwa. “They tell me they are now international because they have international friends out there.”
What struck Hoff and her students most about the letters from Uganda was their immediate warmth and sincerity.
“When we received the letters from your students, my students were in shock with the amount of love and affection and passion your students shared without even knowing us,” she told Nabachwa. “Especially in New England, that kind of sentiment where we live is not common practice so when our students received these letters of love and excitement and friendship we were so happy and so grateful that we were immediately friends. Any sorts of boundaries were completely removed when we read the words from your students.”
“Here in Uganda people have a lot of love and people are so sincere,” said Nabachwa. “They are open to friendship and really don’t have any negative energy. Our students don’t have the best facilities, but they’re happy.”
Daley is looking forward, along with Hoff, to finding that out in person. Meanwhile, she hopes Monomoy's story inspires other schools to start their own letter writing campaigns.
“If we can make other communities,” Daley said, “other schools think of connecting with other countries, another school in Uganda or a school in India, I think we can make a big difference.”