Good evening everyone! My name is Emiko Kobayashi. I would like to share with you my story and specifically how Sister Schools has impacted my life.
I was born in Guilin, China and was raised by caretakers in an orphanage until the age of 8. While it was considered one of the better orphanages, it still wasn’t what we would consider a typical home.
We slept in crowded dormitories, separated by girls and boys. We had one meal a day.
And I was a part of a group of five close friends who played together, learned from each other and supported one another. When we started to get a little older, over the course of a few years, I watched as each of them were adopted and I was the last one remaining. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out I was going to be reunited with my sidekick Kiana, who is now my sister. I was adopted by my family sitting at table 17.
Shortly after arriving in Seattle, I began attending Catherine Blaine School. While I was there, I was introduced to Sister Schools.
I remember gathering in the music room with my classmates for Terry’s presentation. Using his pictures, stories and that amazing song that tears me up a little inside every time, he opened up my heart to feel connected to the children of Uganda. He showed me that there was a world outside of myself and reminded me that there is a community that needed our support. Terry got my classmates and I excited that we, as 3rd graders, had the ability to make someone else’s life better! I went home and started packing up bags of toys, games and clothes. Year after year, I looked forward to seeing the slide show presentations, where I got to see the Ugandan child who received each item.
One item I especially remember was my neon jacket I used to own, I must have worn it day after day until the sleeves started to rise. Come to think of it my family probably got sick of seeing me with it. But even though it was my absolute favorite, I knew that it was time to give it up because another child needed it more than I did.
The experience of seeing my jacket in the little Ugandan girl’s hands, and seeing how happy she was made me and probably countless other children in Seattle feel that they contributed to someone else’s wellbeing. Kids don't get to feel this often and Terry gave us that gift.
And it is a gift Sister Schools has been giving to thousands of students for over the past 20 years.
I stayed involved with Sister Schools through out the years by volunteering for the auctions, sorting out supplies at the warehouse and donating.
Then, in 8th grade, an opportunity came up for students from Blaine to accompany Terry on a summer trip. 23 other students, teachers and parents, including my Mom set out on a trip of a lifetime. Many are still involved with Sister Schools and are here in the audience today.
I expected that a trip like this would be life changing but it’s hard to know immediately following the trip how it has impacted you. Now that I look back on it, I realize that the decisions I made were very much impacted by my past experiences. And when I connect the dots, I trace it back to my experiences in Uganda and with Sister Schools.
After that trip, I came home and was shocked that we had so many options at the store… organic bananas or nonorganic bananas, Dreyers or Breyers, Dominos or Pizza Hut, when in Uganda they are just happy to have food on the table. Or the fact that they walk for miles every day to attend school and my parents would drive me to Blaine when we lived only 6 blocks away. One of the most impactful experiences for me was a visit to Ntinkalu Primary School. As was typical with all the schools, the children welcomed us with song and dance but at Ntinkalu it was a little different, the children here were telling us a story of their lives through song.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Uganda in 8th grade and again this past summer. Both times, what I found most impressive is the love all Ugandans showed towards each other and to their visitors.
I noticed that even with their daily struggles, they possessed an indestructible hope for the future. And it shows everyday in the work and efforts they put into educating their children.
Some sights were familiar such as students practicing how to write on the dirt with sticks because they lacked simple supplies like paper and pencil. These kids sit out there in the burning sun just to learn. The teacher told us that when it rained, their classroom gets washed out, and all they can do is wait. It left no doubt for me, that there was still a lot of work to be done.
But I also saw positive changes both small and large. I saw students using the crayons to draw a picture of what their graduation would look like. I saw that they now had enough school supplies so they can stay in school and be there on their graduation day.
While the first trip was an awakening for me, the second trip was an affirmation that we were making a difference.
Today, our world is smaller and it is easier than ever to help those in need.
Today I know that I do have the ability to help.
Today, I’m at the University of Washington preparing to take my MCAT, a placement exam to get into medical school.
Because sister schools gave me the gift of seeing my jacket on another little orphaned girl.
And showing me the impact I made in her life, my vision for my life has changed and it is now broader, deeper and richer. My whole experience with Sister Schools has opened my eyes to strive to do something truly meaningful with my life.
I’d like to invite all of you to join us in opening eyes and changing lives both in Uganda and right here at home.
Registration for Sister Schools' Gala is now open! Buy your tickets today!