By the time you read this, nine local students from three high schools will have five days left before embarking on the trip of a lifetime.
The trip to Uganda stems from a desire of Indian Valley Academy sophomore Alicia Bagley, who has been to Uganda twice, to go back once again. Bagley went to Uganda with her mother, Amy Schultz, who ran the ENACTUS program at Feather River College. Schultz brought FRC students to Uganda in previous years as part of the entrepreneurial program.
On a trip to the Bay Area with Indian Valley Academy co-director Sue Weber last year, Bagley sprung the idea of going to Uganda. Weber had taken a group of high school students to Haiti the previous year.
The trip, which will run from March 20 to April 12, will take six Indian Valley Academy students — Julianne Cook, Alicia Bagley, Kara Jeffrey, Alex Rossington, Emmet Stoy and Jace Spackman — two Quincy High School students — Michael and Morgan Fowler — and one Quincy Plumas Charter School student — Katelyn MacMillan — out of their day-to-day environment.
The Haiti trip involved IVA students and one from Portola High School.
It’s Weber’s dream to make yearly or every-other-year trips to Uganda a countywide offering for high school youth with a goal of two students from each of the Plumas Unified School District schools and Indian Valley Academy students. The commitment for the program however can be daunting to area youth.
“The trip is a choice. Students going on the trip cannot participate in sports or take college classes during this period,” Weber said, “It’s not just a three-week trip. It’s a learning hub with a series of fundraisers to work through as well.”
The learning hub consists of interdisciplinary curriculum around the trip with an emphasis on history, economics, personal finance, business and cultural anthropology.
What does that look like? Last week, the former U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Steven Browning, who now lives in Grass Valley with his wife, came to IVA to talk with the students about his experiences there and to answer questions.
They’ve heard lectures of the devastation of AIDS in Uganda. They’ve read literature discussing the colonialism of the African continent by Europe and its repercussions and legacy. They’ve read fiction set there; folktales and parables to get them ready for interaction with the land and its people.
They’ve been doing research and presentations on subjects relating to Uganda; presentations on economics, health, urban versus rural settlements, refugees and the complexity of the refugee crisis — and what the U.S. role has been in refugee settlements there.
“We have an amazing group of kids going on this trip. I feel they can handle anything. To go on a trip like this you have to have a certain level of responsibility. These kids have it,” said Weber. She spoke of the fundraising and other tasks for the trip preparation. She acknowledges that if a student couldn’t handle the pressure of doing something here, it likely wouldn’t go well once the student faces the pressure of being in a developing foreign country.
Indeed the itinerary seems rather full of new experiences for the youth. IVA is partnering with Great Lakes School in Uganda and hopes to build a sister school relationship with it for the future. The students will spend the bulk of their time with Great Lakes School students and programs. They will also be working with an entrepreneur and business group, working on a tea plantation, a coffee plantation, visiting a salt mine and working in a health clinic.
They’ve already begun their work at home. The youth have raised money for three separate programs running in Uganda: a preschool program which provides education to 40 young children, a protein program providing rabbits for meat and a goat program providing goat milk to make soap.
They’ve received a $1,000 grant from the local Bread for the Journey organization and have raised over $2,500 through fundraisers. They staffed a booth at the Ground Hog Day Festival, held bake sales and worked as servers at the Quincy Crab Feed.
The students will be working on a $1,000 micro loan program, which lends funds to community members who present a business plan to start a business. The loan repayments recycle back into the program for more loan opportunities.
With five days to go, Weber and the students are still working. Apparently, Great Lakes School is looking to teach its kids baseball. So Weber and the students are busy collecting used gloves, bats and balls to bring with them.
On March 3, the seven students not cut off by the Highway 89 overnight closure made presentations of their projects to bring soap, rabbits and goats — all purchased locally in Uganda — to the people they will be working with at a soup and salad fundraiser at the Indian Valley Community Center. After the diners had left. they huddled around the last table to eat the homemade bread and finish up some of the soups. Their excitement was palpable.
What would make them want to do such a trip?
“I’m interested in immersion in different cultures. I’ve been to Italy and Mexico and now Uganda,” said Kara Jeffrey. Alex Rossington has never been outside the country before; she indicated she wanted to get outside her “bubble.” Katelyn MacMillan’s family has traveled to the coast and Mexico before. She wanted the opportunity to help.
One of the girls said, “I have a feeling I’ll be taking more from the experience than what we’re giving them.” The other girls nodded in recognition.
“I saw the impact the [Haiti] trip had on my sister. It changed her. I wanted to experience that,” said Julianne Cook.
“I want to broaden my views and learn the impact we can have in the world. All the little things we take for granted,” said Jace Spackman, who paced around the table with the energy of someone about to do something big.
“I want to make a change in the world. Have an impact,” said Emmett Stoy. “It’s better than sitting on the couch doing nothing.”