Concord educator gives back: Walking in South African shoes

By Oliver L. Longo Correspondent
April 19, 2023

Walking into the darkness of a Cape Town children’s home with no electricity in 2009, Concord resident and Middlesex School  math teacher Amy Gleason had what she called “her moment.”

She described revisiting a group of 15 children she had met in South Africa a year prior, and the indelible image of their “huge smiles” looking up at her from the floor where they were sitting huddled together. In that moment, Gleason thought “I am going to commit myself to them for the next 20 years.” 

Part of that mission is “Walk in Their Shoes,” a 5K walk on April 30 at 2 p.m. at Great Brook Farm in Carlisle. This will be the third year the walk will raise funds for Ubuntu Global Connections, a non-profit organization started by Gleason whose mission is to connect South African citizens with the resources that they need. 

Since its start just over 10 years ago, Ubuntu Global Connections has now raised over $350,000 across the various South African based non-profits they are partnered with. One of these organizations is Axium Education, which works to raise student achievement, improve literacy and build a love of learning through supplemental academic help. 

For many South Africans, poverty and unemployment tragically dictate their lives. The current unemployment rate in South Africa is 27 percent with that figure rising to 60 percent for ages 15-24 years old. 

“The country has really been struggling with corruption and a lack of hope for the future,” said Gleason. 

A large part of this disparity can be traced back to roots in a struggling education system, where most South African students aren’t able to access the necessary tools to advance academically. It’s common to have 70 second graders in a classroom with one teacher. 

According to Gleason, “The drop out rate is very high, very few students go beyond high school, and many many don’t make it to graduation in the normal school system.”

Gleason is simultaneously at opposite ends of an educational and socioeconomic spectrum. Having been to South Africa 35 times, Gleason said, “I feel as if I live in two worlds.” Her dialectical experience as both a math teacher at the private Middlesex School while concurrently being immersed in the underfunded schools in South Africa has been humbling and perspective altering for Gleason. 

What unites these two different worlds is the value of education. Gleason noted, “I have a basic belief that all children around the world should have access to quality education.” She has dedicated her career to educating young people and her work in South Africa is an extension of her passion for learning and teaching. For many of these kids, their time at the Axium programs is the best part of their day. The Walk in Their Shoes fundraiser’s goal is to raise awareness and benefit Axium in hopes to make education more accessible in South Africa.

Because of the small size of Ubuntu Global Connection, Gleason has been able to maintain a personal connection with the people responsible for how donated money is used. She noted, “I think what makes us different is we’ve been pretty small and very personal … I have taken it very seriously that if I solicit money from other people I only want to do that if I can guarantee personally that it’s going to be used well.” 

Furthermore, Gleason acknowledged that “the value of the dollar in South Africa is so huge, the amount of impact that your dollar can have on people there is bigger.”

For those looking for more ways to support, you don’t necessarily need to donate money or purchase a plane ticket to South Africa. When asked how Concord residents can help, Gleason answered, “If we have a curiosity about the world, if we have an open mind, and we’re not just looking for the news that reinforces our views, and we actually seek it out, I think we can deepen our understanding and our compassion for others, and our ability to get outside of our world. We don’t have to go to South Africa to have that mindset; it’s something we can do from our living rooms”.

Gleason’s organization’s titular South African concept of “ubuntu” can be loosely translated to, “I am because we are,” or a kind of compassion and kindness recognizing that our existence only is because we are connected to others. For Gleason and her organization this is of utmost importance, but it is also relevant for everyone. 

For more information about Ubuntu Global Connections and the “Walk in Their Shoes” event, visit: