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Alumnus joins students in outreach to Uganda

Matthew Clifford with students

Illinois State alum Matthew Clifford with students in Uganda.

Matthew Clifford ’05, M.S. ’07, has a passion for giving back and an interest in global events, which is not surprising given his work as an international studies teacher.

After completing degrees in history, he joined the teaching team at Vernon Hills High School, where he also helps coach girls track. He eagerly became involved in the school’s project to construct St. Jerome School in Kapeeka, Uganda. He and his wife, Julie (Wodzien) ’06, had previously sponsored a child in Africa. He was ready to do more.

“Our school had been sponsoring the construction there for about five years, and I wanted to do some good. There were two trips with teachers and students, and I felt like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Clifford said. He joined a Vernon Hills team in late July of last year. The 15-day trip was supported through an Illinois Catholic program called COVE Alliance.

“It’s a great way for kids to look at a different role in the developing world,” Clifford said of the journey. Seeing the work in progress was exciting for the students, as Vernon Hills had raised money used to construct a building for first through fifth graders at St. Jerome in 2009. Fundraising has continued since that time.

When Clifford and the others arrived in Kapeeka, they immediately noticed how the children were poorly clothed. Clifford reached out to Illinois State, and the Office of Admissions donated several T-shirts. The children only have about one or two shirts to wear for an entire year. ISU’s donation was consequently “received with happiness and gratitude,” Clifford said. He also gave an ISU flag to a teacher at St. Jerome, who had the students carry it at a local soccer tournament in appreciation of the University’s generosity.

“Being in Uganda and living among such poverty was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Helping the students and families of Kapeeka was one of the greatest honors I have ever experienced,” Clifford said. “It was wonderful that ISU could be a part of that.”

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