More than 7,000 miles separate suburban Virginia from rural Uganda. But as the founder of TOMS Giving Partner Arlington Academy of Hope, John Wanda bridges that distance every day.
Growing up in the village of Bumwalukani, the importance of education was impressed upon John and his seven siblings at an early age. By the time he reached third grade, John’s father saw that his needs were not being met at the rural school and he was sent to the city center to attend school there. At 13, through hard work and his father’s nearly miraculous ability to come up with school fees, John attended a private boarding school, and — along with his brother — became the first in his village to graduate from college.
Years later, after immigrating to the United States, John and his wife began paying the tuition for several children back home in Uganda to fulfill that a similar path. Their efforts grew into Arlington Academy of Hope, a model school for nearly 300 children in Bumwalukani. This year, Arlington Academy of Hope saw its first class complete high school and some have continued onto college or technical training programs for occupations like teaching or nursing.
“Arlington Academy of Hope is showing these kids from my village that they can perform as well as any other kid elsewhere,” John said of his school. “Given the right resources, tools and help, they have the potential…it has given them hope for the future.”
And TOMS Shoes have become an integral part of learning; Since 2010, this Giving Partner has worked new shoes into its uniform distribution for children enrolled in school. To date, John’s organization has distributed more thousands of pairs of TOMS at 17 schools in Eastern Uganda. The shoes help improve school attendance and create an opportunity to educate about health issues.
“I feel like a guiding hand led me through all the upheavals in my childhood,” John said. “And I feel a responsibility to help where I can.”