Charlotte O’Neal co-founded and runs of Leaders of Tomorrow Children’s Home (LOTCH), a GO Campaign partner with her husband Pete O’Neal. LOTCH is a children’s home for 22 children in Imbaseni Village , Tanzania.
Written by: Charlotte O’Neal
It was my day off and I was enjoying a little ‘chill time’ with family in Kansas City. Part II of this years UAACC HEAL THE COMMUNITY TOUR 2016 has been jammed packed with hardly any breathing space so it was great to be able to put my feet up, catch up on reading, sorting through hundreds of family photos at my dad’s and even looking at a few choice programs on TV that didn’t include the incessantly circus like U.S. Presidential debates! As I flipped through the many channel choices, an advertisement caught my eye. It was the U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama in all her elegance and African beauty alongside Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first woman in Africa to hold that office, sitting in a bare bones classroom complete with old fashioned chalkboard and mismatched chairs and desks. I took note of her heartfelt enthusiasm as she talked about her global initiative, Let Girls Learn, that not only focuses on education, but also pushes programs for empowerment and leadership; health and quality nutrition; addressing gender-based violence (GBV); and preventing child/forced marriage. As the First Lady spoke to that room full of Liberian school girls she related to them how the challenges that they face in their lives with focused determination are what makes them unique and special. “And you will continue to rise,” she said to the attentive students. “You will rise in your leadership and in the reality of your dreams!”
As that commercial faded the ping of my laptop told me that there were messages awaiting my attention. Was it coincidence that at the moment the television darkened, I opened an email with at least 90 photos of our UAACC family who were at Renea Girls Secondary School under the brightest blue sky imaginable, celebrating the Form IV graduation of Irene Thomas Matogolo, the eldest of the 23 original Leaders of Tomorrow Children? That serendipitous moment gave me the greatest sense of pride to know that not only was Irene the first from the Leaders of Tomorrow Children’s (LoTCH) program to graduate but that she had graduated Number ONE in her class at Renea Secondary AND number eight out of the combined final exams of 293 top students from nine schools in Arusha Region! Wow! Not bad at all for a girl from Imbaseni Village, the home of UAACC!
Community Service was the hallmark of the Black Panther Party (of which both Mzee Pete and I had the privilege to be members of in the late 1960s), the establishment of LoTCH came about because of a need to open doors of opportunity for youth in our village and beyond. And it has been because of the assistance of people around the world, our extended family, that those doors have remained open! “It’s amazing that eight years have gone by so quickly since Irene and the younger children first came into the LoTCH program,” explains Mzee Pete. “But it’s not really so astonishing that Irene has developed in to a real leader with great potential to succeed at anything she might want to do in life! She was always number one in her classes even in Imbaseni Primary School. No doubt that her love of education was enhanced by the culture of learning that she lived every day at UAACC.”
Several of the seven recently graduated primary school LoTCHers are scheduled to begin a two week internship at Habari Node Ltd., one of the most community minded internet service providers in Tanzania whose decades old Elimu on Line philanthropic program has enabled many schools to provide free or low-cost internet for students. This unique internship will expose these young LoTCH children to the intricacies of information technology and the entrepreneurial spirit required to be innovative and creative in this relatively new global frontier.
I flip through photo after photo and get to the last one that shows Irene and Happiness in warm sisterly embrace. Happiness is now pre-enrolled into Renea Girls Secondary. She too, was number one in her classes at Imbaseni Primary. And no doubt she will heed Michelle Obama’s edict to ‘RISE in leadership and the reality of your dreams’! After all, it has become something of a tradition at UAACC among Leaders of Tomorrow Children!