Ridgefield Academy science teacher Mac Rand has run marathons, completed back-to-back Ironmans, and logged 101 miles in one 24-hour period.
None of it compares to climbing Kilimanjaro and then getting to visit students from the village of Mungere in Tanzania.
“It was everything I hoped for and more,” said Rand, “it exceeded all my expectations ... it was the best two weeks of my life.”
Rand said the most emotional moment of the dual vacations was reaching Kilimanjaro’s summit.
“Your appetite goes with the altitude so you’re not eating as well and you’re going for eight days straight carrying a 25-pound pack with less oxygen,” he said. “I’ve done endurance events before but nothing that long. On summit day, we woke up at 11 at night and got to the top of the mountain around 9 in the morning. We didn’t get back to our camp until six that night so it ended up being about a 17 or 18 hour day which was a real challenge...
“It was pretty emotional getting to the top, I definitely shed a few tears.”
Rand’s favorite moment of the trip came the following week when he hiked to a local waterfall with the Mungere School students.
“It was great to see them unstructured and out of the classroom,” he said. “We were on their turf, and they were happy and having fun splashing around in the water. It was a nice reminder that even though they’re 5,000 miles away from where we live that they’re still just kids being kids.”
The hike served as an icebreaker of sorts, Rand said.
“They were wondering who I was the first couple of days I was there,” he said. “Going on the hike, they got to be themselves. They were very comfortable and having a lot of laughs. They were no longer shy or intimidated. That was the first time where I felt I was developing a real relationship — a real connection — with them.”
Rand brought dozens of handwritten letters from Ridgefield Academy students with him to the Mungere School.
The Ridgefield resident said watching the Tanzanian students open the cards was one of the biggest highlights of the trip.
“I don’t think they’d ever received a letter before, at least not from America,” he said.
Rand brought pictures of his students to show the Mungere children their American counterparts.
“They were infatuated with who these kids are and where they were from — where I’m from,” Rand said. “They immediately started writing back.”
The letter writing process was the first brick in the foundation of a partnership between the Red Sweater Project, which runs the Mungere School, and Ridgefield Academy.
“We want it to be more than just a simple exchange of letters,” he said. “We want to trade ideas with them and help open up the world for our kids but most important we want it to be a two-way experience where there’s meaningful learning going on on both sides...
“We don’t know the exact shape of it or the direction but we know it’s something,” he added. “The letter writing was a fun way to break the ice but we want to build up a calendar throughout the school year that touches on different themes that both schools can participate in.”
Rand said he got a big envelope of letters last week from the Mungere School. He distributed them to his students on Monday, April 8.
“I did not think it would be this quick of a turnaround,” he said. “It’s amazing to get a response for them in such a short amount of time. We’re only talking about eight days since I left the country.”