A Blessing for 'Teacher Grace'

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 9, 2009

As a third-grade class at Arlington Traditional School fired questions at Grace Lusweswe, it was clear the teacher was not from here.

"Do you give chickens as gifts, like to thank somebody?" one girl asked.

Yes, and sometimes eggs, she said.

"Do the kids live far away from the school?" another asked.

Some of them, she said. Some walk as far as five miles to get to class.

"Do they take field trips?"

Lusweswe paused, looking confused. And so John Wanda, the founder of the school in Uganda where Lusweswe teaches, answered.

"A lot of these children have never gone to a city or a town. They have never seen running water. They have never seen a building that is two floors," he said. "There's some children who have never driven in a car."

For years, teachers and administrators from Arlington Traditional have visited Arlington Academy of Hope, their sister school in rural Uganda, taking with them books and lesson plans. But Lusweswe is the first teacher from the African school to visit Arlington Count.

How she ended up there, visiting classes on Jan. 13, is a testament to the strength of an unusual relationship forged between two schools more than 7,200 miles apart.

Lusweswe, 46, known as "Teacher Grace," started having problems seeing out of her right eye in 2006. She said she thought it was the result of reading without electric lights, but the problem gradually grew worse, with pain so intense that she felt as if her eye would be pushed from its socket. In 2007, she learned she had a growing tumor and needed surgery. The doctor recommended that the procedure be done outside Africa, suggesting India or the United States.

"I looked at the places that he mentioned, and they were so expensive. How could I raise so much money?" Lusweswe said. "I was so scared. . . . I had lost hope."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company