Ugandan educator visits Dover: Gives thanks to St. John’s Lutheran School

Fred Magezi from Uganda plays Ring Around the Rosie with St. John’s Lutheran School students Deacon Harrison and Hannah Slentz on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — It was easy to see this was a different type of school than Fred Magezi was accustomed to as he joined hands with students at St. John’s Lutheran School, danced in a circle and sang “Sally Goes Round the Sun” on Tuesday afternoon.

Perhaps it was Mr. Magezi’s smile that gave it away.

Or maybe the native of Uganda was just simply expressing his sincere gratitude to the students and staff of St. John’s Lutheran School, located at 1156 Walker Road, for all they have done for the people in his country.

Over the past 16 years the small school in West Dover has done charitable projects that have raised almost $70,000 for several different causes on many different scales.

In the last four years alone, St. John’s Lutheran School has raised almost $10,000 to build four wells in Uganda, $8,000 for a new school building, bought 30 bicycles for local pastors and delivered 12 indestructible soccer balls for the children.

Mr. Magezi said these have all been positive gestures that are not going unnoticed.

“Teach children when they are young to give and the gift is from the heart,” Mr. Magezi said. “When you are giving, your hand is top while the bottom is receiving. That means the one who is giving is guaranteed more blessing because the hand is always on top.”

On a mission to learn

Mr. Magezi was visiting St. John’s Lutheran School Tuesday in hopes of learning things he can take back to his country’s two new schools. He will be spending the next two weeks studying different school’s teaching techniques in America.

“I’m trying to look around and see what kind of things will work well in Uganda,” he said. “Already what I’ve observed here, the teachers are so interactive with the children and they’re not in our country.

Fred Magezi from Uganda talks about his visit to America as Dina Vendetti listens at St. John’s Lutheran School on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Teachers (in Uganda) tend to frighten the students. Here, they are very free, they are given a chance, and I like that system.”

Dr. Dina Vendetti, principal of St. John’s Lutheran School, was glad that Mr. Magezi took the time to visit.

“To have Mr. Magezi come and be with us (Tuesday) is a big deal because a lot of the kids are still here that were a part of that (well fundraising effort),” Dr. Vendetti said. “They were very excited to be able to do that.

“The motivation behind some of that is if they learn while they’re here at this age that it’s an important thing to do – to do things that make a difference in the world – not just here, that they can actually make a difference in the world.

“Then when they leave us hopefully they’re still going to believe that and they’ll become the servant leaders in our community.”

Countries come together through charity

What a difference the students have made.

In 2013, Dr. Vendetti set a goal of $5,000 to finance two wells in the village for fresh drinking water but even when the goal was met, the donations kept rolling in. In the end, St. John’s raised enough to finance five wells, which now provide more than 10,000 people with fresh water daily.

Before the wells were installed, citizens of the village had to walk four miles to and from the closest source of clean water at least twice a day.

“There were four wells for that project, the kids raised $9,600, and then that summer the (church) congregation gave another $2,400, so now there are five wells,” Dr. Vendetti said.

Fred Magezi from Uganda and Sally Hiller, District Executive for Education plays Ring Around the Rosie with St. John’s Lutheran School students on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We raised $8,000 towards the school building and the school is up and functioning. By the time the schools went together they were able to build two schools.”

The St. John’s students have creative ways of raising money, including doing chores, asking their churches for a “gift” offering, selling toys they don’t use anymore on eBay and, instead of asking for presents on their birthday, asking their guests to bring a charitable donation.

Sally Hiller, deaconess and executive director for congregational outreach and district operations for the Lutheran Church Southeastern District, was the one who really brought the church and Uganda together.

She visited the country in East Africa on a mission trip a couple of years ago and it opened her eyes up of their needs.

“Mr. Magezi is the director of schools, but the first time I was in Uganda he was the director of everything else for the Lutheran Church in Uganda,” Ms. Hiller sad. “While we were in Uganda there was just such an opportunity to be able to learn about the ministry, to learn about the people of Uganda, and to see what God is doing there.”

She laughed when she recalled her latest trip to Uganda, which revolved around delivering those soccer balls.

“We carried 10 or 12 soccer balls in our suitcases all with us on the bus and then we distributed two to every school that we went to,” she said. “Then they went right back to work.”

Mr. Magezi says ‘Thank you’

This will be a busy couple of weeks for Mr. Magezi. He will be visiting schools in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia over the next week, before heading farther west for more school visits.

“This is his first day of the journey,” Ms. Hiller said. “So we were over at the Early Learning Center and he got to watch ‘Circle time,’ and all sorts of good things there.

“We also had some time in the classroom to see education with very young children and now here we’re looking forward to seeing a good school at work and what we can find from that.”

Dr. Vendetti said just giving the children a chance to see and meet Mr. Magezi gave a chance to put a face on their charitable efforts.

“It’s really cool because with the well (charity), we got pictures back of people at these wells and then with the school we were able to receive construction reports as they were building on the site, we got those periodically, and then Sally (Hiller) was able to send us pictures of the kids with the soccer balls,” she said.

“So our students can really connect to that because they actually saw it.”

Mr. Magezi was amazed that a school consisting of only 29 students, pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade, was able to provide such support.

“I’m learning a lot,” he said. “It’s been a blessing and that’s why we have come to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Ms. Hiller said the thanks belong to the students, who are extremely dedicated to their charitable efforts.

“This school is a small school, there have been more than 29 (students in the past) but what’s been really incredible is what these students have been able to raise, whether it be $5,000, $6,000 or $7,000 for a project that is outside of them,” she said.

“It is not about who they are and those are remarkable number ratios there. It’s truly a sign of being generous and being committed to doing something beyond yourself.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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