By Ellen Lavelle '24
I am sharing this post to talk about the incredible week I just experienced with the Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business Innovation and Design Thinking Immersion course. Thanks to the generous funding from the Pulido-Walker Foundation and the leadership from Professor Wendy Angst and Professor John Onyango, myself and another group of students traveled to Kalongo, Uganda to prototype a few new projects that we have been working on at Notre Dame for St. Bakhita’s. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the mission of the project, St. Bakhita’s is a vocational school in northern Uganda that provides an education for women in the area who were unable to complete the traditional education path in Uganda. Professor Angst has taken on this project to help St. Bakhita’s on their road to self sustainability. This past fall, the first class of innovation scholars graduated from St. Bakhita’s since Notre Dame has become involved with the school.
Our trip, spanning just over a week, accomplished many tasks in terms of advancing the school and continuing to strive toward the goal of self-sufficiency for St. Bakhita’s in the near future. Every day was filled to the brim with different activities and debriefing sessions. We prototyped two new businesses for the school including a peanut butter production and packaging business and a movie night activity for Kalongo where popcorn and sodas were available for purchase to help bring in funds for the school. We also worked on gathering data from Kalongo locals about the possibility of building a community center in town so that the entire town can benefit from the services of St. Bakhita’s. Alongside trained ethnographers, Notre Dame students, myself included, interviewed over 20 local community members regarding the types of classes or services they would like to see at a community center. I was tasked with surveying the teen girls. Hearing their stories and their career aspirations was truly insightful. The community center will help many residents of Kalongo by advancing their skill set as well as providing them with an outlet for sharing their personal knowledge with the rest of the community.
While most of our trip was filled with project development and ethnographic research, we also found time to interact with both the girls at the school and the local community. We toured another vocational school in Kalongo, Kalongo Technical Institute, to gather information about possible advancements we can bring to St. Bakhita’s. We ventured to the market where we had the chance to meet up with one of St. Bakhita’s first graduates and learned about the tailoring shop she opened up in town as a direct result of her education at the school. We also had the opportunity to climb Mt. Kalongo and even challenged the local women's soccer team to a game. While I have been involved with St. Bakhita’s for just over a year now, having the opportunity to travel to Uganda and experience the magic of the school in person was truly an insightful venture. The friendships I formed both with my fellow ND students and the girls at St. Bakhita’s and the memories I made will stay with me forever. Most importantly, the immersion showed me the importance for education and how developing a skillset and mastering entrepreneurship is a powerful tool.