Far from the glitzy Silver Screen and the shining Oscars, there’s an amazing grace in the true American spirit through citizens’ diplomacy and civic actions. On the macro level, one sees this in the magnificent work of the benevolent Gates Foundation in its efforts to eradicate disease and lift people out of poverty. From the old money, other charitable organizations such as the Ford Foundation are doing great deeds around the world. American generosity is not just the billionaires but every-day individuals seeking to change the life of people who would otherwise not be able break the cycle of poverty. The Arlington Academy of Hope (AAH) is a story worth sharing because of the people behind the charitable organization based in Arlington, Virginia and the wholesome approach to impoverished people in a far flung village in Eastern Uganda. It is a story of how collective actions can deliver amazing results. AAH has organizational support from a diverse set of actors, which includes USAID, Microsoft Foundation, Marymount University and Women’s Microfinance Initiative, for example. With a clear and simple mission statement, AAH strives to “help children in rural Uganda reach their full potential.” Focusing on academics, AAH works to “the standards of education and demonstrates that children can learn when their basic needs are met.” Hearing the stories of students in rural Uganda, one understands the difference made by AAH compared to the government run public schools where poor students can fall by the wayside and succumb to subsistence life that is perhaps the destiny for them due to lack of resources and opportunities. With a single minded emphasis on merit, AAH helps its students pass the “Primary Leaving Exam – most with top grades. The results put our AAH school in the top 1% of schools nationwide.” An example of instilling hope in the students is the story narrated by Emma MacKenzie – "Two AAH Women elected Student Body Presidents." Through the story the readers will learn that “Esther attends the Uganda Christian University in Mbale (UCU Mbale) and Georgina attends Salem Nursing School, also located in Mbale. Both young women were experienced in student government from their secondary school days where both were elected prefects. These are their stories of hard work and victory.”  Electoral politics is not the focus of AAH, education and health is. In the AAH Primary School, the salient features are what one would consider the building blocks of success. For example, daily meals, dedicated teachers, AAH uniforms, book and school supplies, reading challenge, school farm, field trips and child sponsorship.  We learn that “most AAH students are sponsored by a special friend located in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world. In addition to critical financial support, sponsors provide personal attention and moral encouragement through the exchange of letters and photos.” The organization encourages fellow citizens to join the noble cause by becoming a child sponsor. At the Secondary School level, AAH continues on strengthening the building blocks of success by keeping the focus on academics, vetting schools that students attend, community service – which involves encouraging students to perform community service, mentoring and oversight and once again promoting child sponsorship so that engaged citizens have the backs of students who most to gain and for whom there might not be other resources available for success in life. The importance of health care for the success of students can be felt by noting that “in the early stages, AAH grappled with how to help children get an education when so many were sick and underfed. Children in the remote, impoverished region where we work often go to school on empty stomachs and remain hungry all day. Malaria and other serious but treatable illnesses cause long student absences, from which some children never return. When our school opened in 2004, AAH instituted a lunch program ensuring each student a free hot meal every day. Still, there was no reliable medical care in the area. To address this need, AAH built and opened a clinic in 2006 with leadership support from Beatrice Tierney, a member of the AAH founding Board of Directors. Located on the grounds of the AAH primary school, the health clinic is open to the entire community and provides free medical care, immunizations and community health education.” The sincerity and the enthusiasm of the people supporting AAH can be felt by the story narrated by Gil and Pat Field, 2017 Adult Trip attendees. “Meeting our P1 (Hope and Isma) and P2 (John and Junior) sponsored students at AJS was incredible,” they wrote. “After 11 years of letter exchanges, we finally got to hug our S6 student Nakuti Doreen on our last night in Uganda— it was a brief but precious visit with her at her secondary school in Kampala,” they continued in their compelling story. In an era of “me, myself and I,” it is heartening to learn that many fellow citizens in the United States view fellow human beings in far flung places as “us.” In doing so, an amazing grace radiates with American civic action from sea to shining sea.  

C. Naseer Ahmad
C. Naseer Ahmad is a contributor to Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.