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"Just when I thought I couldn’t love Notre Dame anymore..."

By Abby Maichin, '24

Two weeks [now months] gone by and still in awe. Words on a paper will never be enough to describe the experience that my classmates and I had.

During my sophomore year spring, I enrolled in Professor Angst’s Innovation and Design Thinking course for my Innovation and Entrepreneurship minor with The Mendoza College of Business. On the first day of class, Quin Gallagher presented a slideshow introducing Saint Bakhitas and gave us an inside look into what we as a class were in for. I remember leaving class that day and immediately face timing my mom on my walk to practice, boasting with excitement about the work we were about to begin, and insisting that “I have to go to Uganda.” Since that day I have been infatuted with this project, developing relationships with the girls and staff of Saint Bakhitas and creating new ideas to develop a self-sustaining educational environment and community in the Kalongo area.

Throughout the semester, we worked virtually with the students of Saint Bakhitas Vocational Training Center attempting to discover solutions and ideas to attain our ultimate goal of having the school be fully functional and to create successful business ventures for the future graduates. After a successful semester, the opportunity of being able to travel and work hands on presented itself, and I immediately jumped on it. Thirteen strangers, at the time, hopped on a flight with nothing but open-minds and no expectations. And we were able to create something pretty special.

After over 20 hours of travel and a dirt road rollercoaster ride, we finally arrived in Kalongo eager to get to bed under our bug nets to rest up for our first day at Saint Bakhitas. Throughout the next three days on site, we put-in 15 hour work days consisting of conducting ethnographic interviews and research throughout the town, touring the Saint Bakhitas farm and picking papayas and jack fruit, and exploring and understanding the lives and business of the average person. We finished our work with hosting a soccer game and movie night at the school. To my surprise, over 250 people were lined on the sidelines to watch us play. Walking up to the field and seeing hundreds of people… I was at a loss of words. Watching a community come together, purley based on word of mouth was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. Groups of kids followed us around, wanting to make immediate connections and spread their joy. Smiles never leaving their faces. Kacie Mooney and I taught them bottle flips, slaps, and even had some fun with animal noises. This was pure happiness.

This was the experience of a lifetime. As Kearney McKiernan said, just when I thought I couldn’t love Notre Dame anymore, I was stunned once again. This place and these people are so special, and none of this would have been possible without the unconditional support of the university and the most amazing staff and faculty that drive our passion to immersing ourselves and others in education and creating a difference in the world.

I was able to gain perspective that I never knew existed. I learned the simpler the better. To be content and fulfilled with what I have. That education is not only important but it is the standard. And to always smile.

Thank you Notre Dame, Wendy, John, Pulido-Walker Foundation and my amazing team for giving me a weeks worth of memories that I will never forget.

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