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Welcoming UWC East Africa to the UWC Movement

1 November 2019

Speech by Jens Waltermann

On Friday 25 October, UWC East Africa celebrated becoming the 18th school to join the UWC movement, the second UWC school on the African continent, as well as the last 50 years of international educational excellence that took place under its former name, International School Moshi (ISM). Around 600 guests from the local community, the UWC East Africa student and staff body and from across the UWC schools and colleges, national committees and UWC International, were treated to an array of inspiring speeches, student performances, a traditional Chagga welcome and tree planting ceremony held over the course of the day at Moshi and Arusha campus. 

To bring the spirit of the opening ceremony to you we would like to share the words of Jens Waltermann,  executive director of UWC International, with you as he extended the warmest of welcomes to UWC East Africa and reflected on the significance of this next big step for UWC East Africa, the UWC movement, the wider region of East Africa and, ultimately, our entire world.

Good morning.

I am humbled to stand here in the beautiful grounds of Moshi campus, to honour the past 50 years of innovation, learning and community building that have taken place here, at what was ISM and is now UWC East Africa.

It is my pleasure today to welcome you all to the UWC movement. We started our journey not too long before that of ISM, 57 years ago. In this time we have grown from a single Kurt Hahn inspired school in rural Wales, Atlantic College, to a global UWC movement of 18 schools on four continents, over 150 volunteer national committees that seek out and select our students, and 60.000 alumni. UWC makes education a force: we take on the ambitious task of equipping a highly diverse group of motivated young people with the skills, knowledge and drive to build a more peaceful and sustainable future. This is the mission that motivates us every day.

We call ourselves a movement because that is what we are. Each of our schools, although independent and deeply rooted in their respective cultures and countries, is bound by the common purpose of moving our mission forward and extending our impact to people from more countries, ethnicities and backgrounds. That is how we hope to direct societal change towards a better and more united tomorrow.

Today, we mark another great move forward as we welcome you, UWC East Africa, with open arms into our family of can-doers and action-takers. And we look forward to this community moving the UWC mission forward in East Africa.

There is a quote that one of UWC’s great supporters, Shelby Davis, uses: “There are dreamers and there are doers - and there are dreamers that do." - that is UWC! And last weekend, you have already shown that you “can do”! The UWC East Africa student team won the first prize at the prestigious Young Aurora Award - part of the USD 1m Aurora Humanitarian Prize. Selected by a panel including two Nobel laureates and two former Heads of State, their Smokeless Kitchens Project - key to fighting respiratory disease among women and children of the Chagga and Massai people - not only gained global recognition, it also showed what this school “can do”. It showed that your students deeply care about the challenges of neighbouring communities and act to address them in the spirit of UWC. Congratulations!

The African continent and its growing and aspiring young generation is of central importance to our world’s future. To this date, our presence on this continent has been limited: based on our African national committees that find and select students from 35 countries across this continent and on Waterford Kamhlaba UWC of Southern Africa in eSwatini - once the foremost school opposing Apartheid in South Africa and the school of Nelson Mandela’s daughters. We need you, as our first school in East Africa to increase our presence in Africa and to strengthen the African voices at the UWC table.

UWC campuses are unique global communities: not just in terms of passports, ethnicities and religions, but also with regard to the very different socio-economic backgrounds of students. Here, students meet who would likely never have met otherwise. But the exchanges of ideas, knowledge and culture that give UWC campuses their buzz do not stay within the confines of the campus. Similarly to ISM’s vision, UWC schools become active members of the community around them. Whether that’s through sharing the campus space with other schools from the local area, off-campus service projects or simply through spending weekends exploring neighbouring towns; the communities in each UWC’s neighbourhood, are an integral part of the UWC student experience.

In turn, sparks are ignited when young people from all around the globe bring their hopes and aspirations together and carry them into the local community. Ripples occur that inspire optimism and a sense of possibility far beyond current circumstances. That is when education becomes a force - a force for positive change!

And what better a place for UWC than here? A school with its own 50 year legacy, as the first IB school in Africa, with an unbeatable outdoor pursuits programme and a longstanding commitment to serving the neighbouring community. Not to mention this breathtaking landscape where students can look out everyday onto Mt. Meru on Arusha campus and Mt. Kilimanjaro on this campus. A view which is recognised all over the world as the icon for ambitious dreams. This is the ideal setting to educate and inspire young leaders of tomorrow.

This school has already established its status. Together we can help you extend your reach even further, by providing more scholarships to students from this region and beyond and helping you share this school with the over 150 countries that form the pool of applicants for UWC schools and colleges around the world. 80 of those NC selected students already arrived at the start of this academic year and joined their peers on both campuses to form a new and unique community. Welcome to you all! Welcome to the world of UWC.

I know from my own experience 35 years ago, that it won’t always be easy. All those ideas and convictions that brought you here suddenly collide with those of a roommate, teacher or classmate - that is a challenge. Yet it opens up the world to you, and it opens you to the world. And step by step, you will not just tolerate or embrace difference - you will celebrate it!

The cultural and socioeconomic diversity that you all bring to UWC East Africa is the fabric that gives this UWC its character and that will shape your learning.

How we use this learning is a question of even greater consequence. It brings me to the core of what I would like to share with you today.

“Making education a force” means that UWCs do not just teach students the knowledge and skills to realise their individual potential. Among your peers from all corners of the globe and all socio-economic backgrounds you will find a sense of purpose beyond yourself. To use your knowledge and talents to help others (and thereby yourself) live a better life - to take action whether in business, as a journalist, a scientist, an artist, a politician or simply as an active member of your community. 

Today we need “education as a force” maybe more than ever. After decades of progress towards more inter-cultural understanding and cooperation, we are seeing a reversal. In fact, with every day that we move closer to a climate tipping point, and every ‘shock’ election result that sees yet another populist nationalist be elected into power, it seems we are moving further away from our goal of “uniting people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future”. We see more and more countries shrink into themselves, building up walls and fooling themselves into thinking that if they cannot see the tide closing in, then they don’t have to deal with it.

This is not because multilateralism and global cooperation have failed. It is because education has not kept up: once created to generate civil servants, soldiers and workers and evolved into creating skilled employees and willing consumers, education needs to make a leap to address today’s social, environmental and political challenges.

UWC education needs to lead the way: based on the principles of trust, responsibility, a sense of purpose beyond the self and a common sense of humanity it needs to be the antidote to the sweet poisons of egocentrism, consumerism, populism and wall-building.

So, as we celebrate this new beginning for you as a school, for us as a movement and, most importantly, for the present and future students of this school, I invite you to reflect on the significance of this next step for you and for our world. How can we maximise the potential of the passionate, critical and motivated people that come together from all corners of the world to form this community? How can we use the great reputation of this school to spread UWC’s mission further, and thus inspire more schools in the region to teach their students about the problems we currently face and their responsibility and power to address them together?

And as part of an education model that above all else trusts its students to mould and draw from their UWC experience in a way that fits their own sense of purpose, passions and areas of concern, I look forward to seeing how the UWC East Africa community will take on this task. It is now up to you to build on ISM’s great legacy and start shaping the next 50 years: on this rising continent, in this wonderful country, at the foot of this magnificent mountain - together for a better world!

We will be at your side.

Asante sana!