Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jennifer Simms

Niwot Elementary celebrates 10 year partnership


March 25, 2017

Courtesy Photo The bluegrass band The Road West plays traditional American music for students at Niwot Elementary and, through a Skype connection, at Mwebaza School in Uganda. (From left) Katy Buckbee, Steve Remmert, special guest Niwot Elementary fourth grader Archer Buckbee, and Dave Goldhammer.

Third, fourth and fifth graders at Niwot Elementary felt a mixture of curiosity, excitement and pride as they filed into the gym for the Skype assembly with their sister school Mwebaza Infant Primary School in Kyengera, Uganda. It was Mwebaza Day on March 14, an annual celebration of the school’s partnership with Mwebaza.

“I’m excited about seeing our pen pals,” said third grader Payton Johnson, who has enjoyed trading letters across continents. “We actually helped build a school for those kids with all of our fundraising,” classmate Savanna Heasley explained proudly. “I’m glad we get to see them and interact with them,” Jaeger Lupberger added.

The Mwebaza Day tradition began five years ago when Niwot Elementary celebrated a visit from Headmistress Namatovu of Mwebaza School. The following year, parents and teachers decided to make the event a tradition by hosting a Skype cultural exchange between the two schools.

“Our kids will sing and dance for them and their kids will sing and dance for us,” said Dale Peterson, first grade teacher and founder of the Mwebaza Foundation, a non-profit group which manages the school partnership. “This year we’re having an American group called The Road West. They play bluegrass. We thought it would be fun for them to hear more traditional American music.”

In addition to the assembly, teachers plan activities on the themes of compassion and friendship, and Peterson and the foundation’s executive manager, Devaki Douillard, visit each class for a special toast. “Traditionally in Uganda they celebrate with obutunda, a passion fruit juice,” Douillard explained. “We give each class a small serving and we have a toast acknowledging the partnership.”

Douillard experienced Mwebaza Day from the Ugandan perspective when she visited Africa in 2015. “The kids in Uganda return to school because it’s evening for them. You have almost every student return in the evening. It’s a huge community event. There are parents watching on the sidelines,” Douillard said.

“It’s harder on their end than it is on our end because they have to make sure the kids get home in the dark,” Peterson said, explaining that the 9-hour time difference means the celebration in Uganda starts at 6 pm.

Niwot’s friendship with Mwebaza School began as a first-grade pen pal project in 2007, but when Peterson’s students received photographs of their new friends, they were inspired to take action. “I literally had a line of parents in my classroom the next morning saying, ‘My kids are so shocked by the poverty they wanted to do something,’ ” Peterson said. “We kept raising money and we thought we were going to build a concrete floor for them, but we ended up building a whole school.”

Inspired by the successful fundraising efforts, Peterson expanded the pen-pal project to the entire Niwot Elementary School and in 2008 launched the Mwebaza Foundation, which today manages the relationship between four front range schools and their African partner schools. The foundation has funded several construction projects for their partners, including a new middle school for the graduates of Mwebaza School, which is scheduled to open in 2018.

Niwot Elementary principal Nancy Pitz is grateful for Peterson and what his Mwebaza Foundation has done for her students. “The greatest impact is the global perspective that our students are able to learn and grow from,” Pitz said. “The highlight of this year’s, and every year’s, assembly is being able to celebrate our special friendship with our sister school in Uganda. It’s a wonderful day to embrace, appreciate, and learn about each other’s unique cultures.”

To learn more about the Mwebaza Foundation, visit http://www.mwebaza.org.


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