While students at St. Mary Catholic School in Newton gathered together to view the solar eclipse on Monday afternoon, it was not the only special lesson in store for the day.
St. Mary also had some visitors from half a world away on hand to speak to the student body, as Bishop Alfred Kalembo and his wife, Muumbe, of the Pilgrim Wesleyan Church in Zambia, Africa, stopped by Newton Monday during their visit to the U.S.
It was a visit precipitated by the latest efforts in a burgeoning relationship, as St. Mary has now sent several outdated school supplies (along with shoes gathered through a fundraising drive) across the Atlantic to benefit schools that are part of the Pilgrim Wesleyan Church. Most recently, that included a slide that was donated to the Sinanjola School in southern Zambia earlier this year.
Efforts like this have made a world of difference in the lives of Zambian students, according to Bishop Alfred, fostering both excitement about school and a commitment to education. The slide has brought people together and continues to draw more children to school, but the overall positive impact of the donations is even greater.
"When you give books, those books that you donate to our schools, they are truly helping children," Alfred said. "Thank you, St. Mary, for your generosity to us. You have made a difference in the lives of our children."
"The gifts that have come have impacted schools in such a way that the performance of our schools have improved," Alfred said. "The passing rate has just increased. It has also motivated students to go to school because they now have the tools."
Many groups have contributed to those efforts, and Alfred spoke to both he and his wife's personal experiences in those regards — noting a missionary group that visited Muumbe's village, when finding out villagers had to walk one mile just to get water, was moved to go back to America and raise money to construct a well in that village.
Alfred admitted conditions like that are commonplace around Zambia, with limited access to water, electricity and food — with some getting only one meal a day. Even the chance to be educated is tough to come by, with Alfred noting it is a "privilege" and not a right in Zambia.
Growing up, Alfred said the closest school was a four-hour walk away — but he was not deterred. A lack of schools also limits secondary education, but Alfred advanced and continued his education at seminary school. This time, his trip to school consisted of a six-hour walk and three-hour bus ride, though it was much less frequent.
Knowing the limited resources available to Zambians — Alfred did not own his first pair of shoes until he was 15 — he is aware just how much every little bit given by schools like St. Mary helps. Passing along a message of gratitude and appreciation, he also recognizes a growing wish list remains.
"We want to assure that the equipment is well taken care of and it is really making a difference," Alfred said, "and we want to encourage Americans here to continue because the needs are many."
Passing on those blessings is something St. Mary Principal Philip Stutey said the school wants to continue to do and it is exciting to see where it will go next.
Hearing the stories of how those donations impact students first-hand may be an even greater blessing, though, and part of why Stutey invited the Kalembos to speak to the school.
"I think that the true gift is having Bishop Alfred and Muumbe come here so that they can see. It gives a face to what we try to do," Stutey said. "That connection allows us to see where those blessings are going and to hear some of the stories."
"It makes you feel good that we're helping countries that don't have as much as we do and we're trying to do our best," said eighth grader Austin Muth. "Even though we may not be the richest people, we're doing our best to help."