In November, Wake County students, teachers, and families gathered at Middle Creek High School to learn about South African culture and change the lives of children more than eight thousand miles away. Middle Creek’s second annual Ubuntu Fest featured student projects, presentations, and performances from every department, Virtual Reality “field trips”, and a silent auction of student art to benefit LIV Village, a long-term cluster foster care organization that models an African village lifestyle for orphaned and vulnerable children in South Africa.

Throughout the event, students presented information on variety of topics related to South African culture including literature, history, statistics, disease, environment, art, language, and games. An audience also gathered in the auditorium to watch students perform traditional music and dance, read folktales and proverbs, and recite Thabo Mbeki’s famous speech “I am an African.”

During the 2015-2016 school year, Middle Creek High School English teacher Matt Scialdone was named the Wake County Public School System Teacher of the Year. Part of his award package included a trip to South Africa through Go Global NC to visit schools, meet with fellow teachers, and become immersed in South African culture. On this trip, Mr. Scialdone and six other WCPSS educators brought nearly 200 pounds of school supplies and athletic equipment to St. Henry’s Marist School, where they were introduced to LIV Village.

“Coming back from that trip, after meeting some of those kids and some of the folks that live and work at LIV Village, I knew something had to happen back here.” Matt saw an opportunity for his students to assist LIV Village in providing quality education for more than 3.9 million orphans in South Africa. In November of 2016, Middle Creek hosted the first annual Ubuntu Fest and raised enough money to send six LIV Village children to school for an entire year.

In a world where teenagers are more connected than ever before through technology, Mr. Scialdone believes that kids feel even more disconnected. “They get stuck thinking that you have to be some rich, powerful person to affect change, and your really don’t.” Ubuntu Fest was first and foremost a powerful lesson for his students: you can change the world. “It just takes some effort and some time and some passion for other people and you can make it happen.”

In February 2017, Matt participated in WakeEd’s World Café, a one-day networking event that strategically pairs businesses with schools to create enriched learning experiences for Wake County students. He was in search of community support to help increase the size and impact of Ubuntu Fest in year two.

As WakeEd recruited businesses to participate in World Café, the Cary Chamber of Commerce sent a call-to-action to its members, asking them to partner with local schools. Lazy Lizard Travel volunteered and, by a twist of fate, Matt was reconnected with President Keith Holshausen. Keith was both a travel agent and tour guide for WCPSS educators in South Africa, so he was able to provide Middle Creek students with materials, photos, and detailed information that enriched this year’s event.

Matt was also partnered Participate, an organization with rich, global professional development resources for educators. “Part of what we’re doing is trying to make our teachers here on campus more aware of what it means to be a global educator,” in hopes of transforming teaching in every Middle Creek High School classroom to promote collaboration and global problem solving. In the coming months, Participate will provide free, global education professional development to help teachers earn their Global Educator Digital Badge.

“It is heartening as an educator to see that members of our community stand ready to help us.” Meaningful experiences like World Café inspire and energize educators. “Here in the education world, a lot of us run on idealism and heart and passion, and when we see members of our community with that same heart and passion and idealism, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us, it means a lot to an educator…That keeps us going. That gives us the fuel to keep doing what we’re doing in schools.”

“I was blown away by what a group of kids and teachers with zero budget and some community support could do to make a positive impact on a kid’s life on the other side of the world,” Mr. Scialdone shared. At the end of the night, Middle Creek students raised enough money to send six LIV Village children to school for an entire year. In March, students will sell more art at Middle Creek’s International Festival, in hopes of sending an additional two students to school next year.

The word Ubuntu is a term from the Nguni Bantu language meaning “I am because you are.” “At its essence, ubuntu is kindness and empathy,” and the term played a significant role in bringing South Africa out of apartheid. It is this overwhelming compassion from students and faculty that makes Ubuntu Fest a success. “I am proud to be a part of this Middle Creek community because our kids, our wonderful performers, the kids who did the academic work, the artists, and the faculty members who supported this – they answered the call.”

With the help of his World Café partners, Mr. Scialdone has been able to strengthen the Middle Creek High School community. Ubuntu Fest is the only school event that every department participates in. “I love the idea that departments that normally don’t participate in these kinds of things, like P.E. or Special Education, get brought into the fold.” The impact of this event on students was evident during the performances, as they cheered and yelled each other’s names. “Giving kids an opportunity to be good to one another is fantastic.”

In the end, he added, “I love giving our kids as many opportunities as possible to share their gifts and talents and providing them with a way to help other people as well.”