Alison Fast traveled to Uganda with Sister Schools in 2018. She cherishes the memories from that trip and found life-long friends in her travel companions: Carol Lycette, Kellie Eaton, Anne Murawski, Claire Murawski, and staff members Ella McGill and Terry McGill.
In this week’s post, find out how Alison first got involved with Sister Schools in Seattle and why she had to find out what happens on the other end in Uganda.
How did you get involved with Sister Schools?
I was invited by a colleague at Pfizer, who was a dance school friend of Carol Lycette, to fill a seat at a table at the Sister Schools gala in 2015. I have always supported local charities, theaters and symphony, so a gala seemed like a routine event to me, but it wasn’t. By the end of the evening, I was sold on the organization and wanted to be more than just a financial supporter. It took another Sister Schools gala before I was able to join in activities at the warehouse.
I got such satisfaction sorting pens, crayons, pencils and so much more, and watching Ella tape, weigh and label each box ensuring it went from the right U.S. school to the right Ugandan school. I had no idea. When I saw the shipping container fully loaded in December—I did not lift a box, but left that to the muscular young folks—I had to see what happened on the other end. That is when I decided I would be a part of the next year’s distribution team.
What memory from Uganda stuck with you most? What did you find most surprising?
There were many memories that stuck with me, from my first impression of the stark yet colorful classrooms; to the gorgeous, smiling students, many in clothes that had probably been handed down from several older siblings; to the singing and dancing greetings we got as we arrived at each new school; to the mobs of children who would surround us the minute a camera was taken out, all wanting to be in a picture; to the grateful teachers, who cracked me up as they tried to figure out how to use a three hole punch; to the team of wonderful people with whom I traveled and all the fun we had with all our side adventures and game nights and unloading and rearranging (twice) the multitude of boxes of supplies into separate containers. I especially appreciated being mentored by Claire Murawski on the art of sorting, while I mentored her on the art of dating.
I spent some time in a preschool, with the tiniest of children, who stole my heart. I was surprised at how eager they were to learn. Just like their older siblings. One fun moment was when I was leading a lesson in a classroom before the teacher arrived and the middle school kids were following my lesson. It was a hoot.
I was also tasked with being the photo prepper, arranging the students’ collars and clothes and ensuring they were holding the school supply in front of them so they would photograph well, as I sent them to Terry for their moment in the spotlight. At one point, the team was a little slow sending the students to me for prepping. I was feeling a little pressure to keep things moving in the heat, so I yelled out, “I need a kid!” and scared Claire half to death.
Since I was the oldest person in our group, I quickly earned the nickname of Ja-Ja, meaning grandmother. I started entertaining the kids with Ja-Ja dances, which are now infamous. It came in handy one day while the students were in line, prepped for Terry to photograph them, when the sun had shifted and was now backlighting the children, making it hard to discern their faces. Terry identified a tree shaded area at the opposite end of the schoolyard where he wanted to finish the picture taking. The task at hand was to move all the children, in order, to the new location. The solution: a follow-the-leader Ja-Ja dance. It was a beauty to behold. I found out from Carol later that when the group returned to that school the next day, without me, as I was heading home to Seattle, the children rushed to the van calling out Ja-Ja! Melted my heart.
How did your trip to Uganda change your life here in Seattle?
I think about the children in Uganda often. I have so many pictures to look through. I wonder how they are all doing as a group and individually. I long to go back. Like others, I saw how hard life is for them. It isn’t easy in Uganda to get water to drink, let alone bathe, so when I am taking a hot shower under a rainforest showerhead I think of them and wish I could do more.
What advice would you give to someone considering a trip with Sister Schools?
I would tell them: get all your shots, make sure you are going with open eyes and an open heart, prepare for hard work, and plan on having the time of your life.
Why is a trip to Uganda so rewarding?
Any time a person does something for another, it is rewarding; but when you are able to do something for those who are so deserving and so grateful, the rewards are beyond imagination.