John and Joyce Wanda grew up in the villages of Bumwalukani and Bupoto in rural Eastern Uganda near the town of Mbale. After winning a diversity lottery visa from the U.S. State Department, they came to the United States in June 1995 and quickly settled in Arlington, VA. Witnessing the experiences of their children in Arlington Public schools, John and Joyce wanted to provide a similar experience for the children in their native villages in Uganda. They began by providing tuition support to five village children in 1999. Soon their program was embraced by Bethel United Church of Christ and the American Chiropractic Association, where John worked. By 2002, John and Joyce had raised about $10,400 which went directly to 142 students to help support their education. Unfortunately, the scholarship program did not have the immediate impact on the standards of education that John and Joyce wanted.
Problems with Rural Uganda Schools. Many schools in rural areas of Uganda (80% of the country) lack materials like paper, pencils, books and even walls. The teachers are not always trained and many do not speak English fluently, although it is the medium of instruction at schools as well as the country’s national language. Attendance and tardiness issues are prevalent for both teachers and students. Many families decide that it is better for a child to help in the fields than to attend inadequate schools. While the students that the scholarship program assisted had better resources, they sat in crowded classrooms and received little assistance from their teachers or parents.
AAH Starts a Model Primary School. The community in Uganda and donors in the U.S. decided together that starting a school in the village would be the best way to make an impact on local education. With a little additional funding, they could build a model primary school – one that could be an example for all the other schools in the village.
On February 2, 2004, the Arlington Academy of Hope opened its doors to 78 students and became the only school in the region using American models of education, serving lunch and emphasizing the development of the child as an individual. Word spread quickly. Soon over 300 students attended AAH, with nearly 150 on a waiting list.
Both John and Joyce had grown up in remote villages in Eastern Uganda. And both had achieved something remarkable: they had graduated from a university – an accomplishment that less than 1% of Ugandans achieve. They valued their education tremendously and quickly realized the new advantages their own children would have in U.S. public schools. They dreamed that one day the children in their home villages would have the chance to attend quality schools and get a good education.