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Comox woman gets hero's welcome in Uganda
A Highland Secondary grad recently met a group of Ugandan students she helped send to high school, something she'd been hoping to do for the past four years.
Anika Barlow, 21, returned mid-December from a two-month trip to Uganda, during which she completed an internship with Comox-based NGO Africa Community Technical Service (ACTS). While there, she traveled to Kikagate to meet 11 students who were able to attend school thanks to the fundraising efforts of students in Highland's 2010 grad class.
"When I first got there it was really amazing to recognize these faces that I'd seen in pictures for four years," Barlow recalls. "I was just so full of joy the whole time. I was trying to think, like what on earth can I compare this experience to? And, I couldn't think of anything … I was just smiling the whole time; it was pretty remarkable."
Barlow initiated the Highland grad legacy project, '10 for 10, and through that project, her 2010 grad class raised $13,000 to send 10 Ugandan kids to secondary school. Barlow notes an additional student was taken on since the class raised the money, and most of the students are now in S3, which is equivalent to Grade 10.
As she arrived in Kikagate for an afternoon meeting with the students, Barlow was greeted by welcoming songs, dances — and an outpouring of gratitude.
"Girls came running over to me ... and they were all shrieking and jumping up and down and hugging me," recalls Barlow, adding she tried to tell the students she wasn't the only person involved in sending them to school.
"It was a totally a group effort; even if it was my idea in the first place, it was never something that I could have done on my own. So, it was funny to be receiving all this praise and gratitude."
The students are all children of widows, according to Barlow, who says the mothers she met were as, if not more, thankful than the students themselves.
Barlow says the experience was eye-opening for her, and she realized the project isn't complete after she met the students.
"When they finish high school there is still not a lot of options for them, like if they want to get jobs in the future, they need to go to either university or vocational training," says Barlow. "In terms of the resources available to them, there's not really anything unless people like us continue to support them.
"It was surprising for me to find that no this isn't actually finished, and these people aren't just a project; they're real people."
Barlow was doing her internship in Uganda with two other Comox Valley grads, whom she attended G.P. Vanier's explore program with years ago. The three old friends live in Vancouver and Barlow says they are discussing doing a fundraising initiative there in the near future, in order to help these students continue their schooling.
Barlow is currently taking international development at Simon Fraser University. She starts her third year of the four-year program this semester.