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Victoria's Story: Recording History to Rewrite the Future

Updated: May 6, 2023

If we have learned anything from being students at the University of Notre Dame, it is that every person has a story to tell that shapes their identity. There are stories that entertain, and then those, shared by the best storytellers, that send shockwaves through your body and make you revisit your everyday thoughts and perspectives. Our group of four was first introduced to Victoria Nyanjura’s story during the fall of 2022 by Professor Wendy Angst, where we learned her account of Victoria’s escape from The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). At an early age, Victoria, and countless other young children, were kidnapped in Northern Uganda and forced into child marriages. Against all odds, Victoria escaped, after long years in captivity, with her two young children and began her life after tragedy, having since studied across the world at the University of Notre Dame and now serving as the Head of School at Saint Bakhita’s Vocational Training Center.

Victoria as a young girl just before being captured
Victoria one month after returning from captivity

A cliff notes version of Victoria’s truth clearly does not do her story justice, which is why it seemed natural to pick up the novel planning initiated by a previous hard working class when tasked with assisting Saint Bakhita’s in its goal to reaching self sufficiency. Victoria’s story holds immense power and speaks volumes to the need for female education in a region where it isn’t standard practice. Over the past 8 weeks, our group has worked to map the direction of sharing Victoria’s story in the form of a memoir and how it can serve to highlight Saint Bakhita’s Vocational School and honor Victoria’s journey to the present day.

We have been surprised in the best way by the willingness of so many people to help us make this project come to life. From busy news experts to seasoned storytellers at Notre Dame to students willing to contribute their writing skills, it seems like everyone we tell about our project wants to pitch in or be of help however they can, even if it is just offering advice as we go through the process or agreeing to spread the word as the memoir is being published! We have also enjoyed learning more about the publishing industry and the process of planning to tell someone's story. It has been fascinating to consider what seems like dozens of different potential layouts for the narrative arc and story framing to tell Victoria's story in the most compelling and impactful way that is true to Victoria's life.

Victoria’s life has been marked by education. Not only has she strived to become highly educated herself but to share the gift of education with as many young women as she can. In an interview with NBC, Victoria said, “I can confirm that education is key in life. Why? First of all, it gives you the opportunity to learn from others. Then two, you gain the skills that enable you to get out there and do something for yourself.” Thus, we hope that, by capturing Victoria’s story in media, we can provide an opportunity for readers across the globe to gain a new perspective on the power of education and get inspired themselves.

One of the most impactful tools we have used this semester as we test and scale our projects is the Business Model Canvas. We are motivated to push for sustainable impact through our project and our classmates’ projects because we understand the way each of our projects will touch so many stakeholders all over the world. For our specific project, understanding the value our project will provide St. Bakhita’s beyond monetary impact alone drives us to keep striving for real, lasting impact. Additionally, the perspective from Lean Impact that a goal in mission-oriented work like this should be to “strive for a day when it will no longer be needed” (Lean Impact 187) has been particularly profound for our team, especially as we work with other project groups to help consider new angles and perspectives as we problem solve together.

Project members Alaina and Grace traveled to St. Bakhita’s and had the opportunity to observe Victoria and her daughter, Hope, in their authentic environments, which led to insights that our group could never have understood from the other side of a computer screen in South Bend, IN. The first thing Alaina and Grace observed upon entering the gates of St. Bakhita is the respect Victoria commands from the students and staff at St. Bakhita’s. These men and women respect her sacrifice, appreciate her tireless fight for female education and empowerment, and embody her strength. Alaina and Grace asked a group of students about their relationships with Victoria and all responses had a common thread, that Victoria’s strength and resilience is an inspiration to all.

Toward the end of the week at St. Bakhita’s, Grace and Alaina conducted an in-depth interview with Victoria. By this time, we already had a strong understanding of the timeline of Victoria’s story; we were more interested in what Victoria wanted to tell the world. Themes that revealed themselves throughout the interview were Victoria’s optimism, resilience, perseverance, and faith. Victoria emphasized how she has not only been able to accept her past, but forgive those who wronged her and leverage her story to support other women with similar experiences. Victoria said, “I will not let my past define me, I will use it to shape my future”.

Victoria Nyanjura, Head of School, Saint Bakhita Vocational Training Center

Another recurring theme in our interview was Hope, which is the name of Victoria’s daughter born in captivity. Victoria says about Hope, “I never want my daughter to suffer the way I did, and have and will do everything in my power to keep that from happening.” Alaina and Grace spent lots of time with Hope throughout the week and saw how she embodies her mother’s passion for education, steadfast faith, and quick wit. Hope relayed memories about Victoria going days without food and feeling confused about where all the money from her mom’s job was going. As she grew up, Hope realized this money went straight to her education. Hope graduated with close to perfect grades from one of the top high schools in Uganda and dreams of attending law school. When asked why, Hope replied, “I was born into injustice and as a lawyer, I can save other girls from being born into a similar situation”.

We ended the interview by discussing how much Victoria is willing to share, her openness to input, and memoir publishing logistics. We believe a memoir describing Victoria’s story will serve as a source of inspiration for the students and faculty at St. Bakhita’s and create revenue that will contribute to a self-sustaining business model for St. Bakhita’s, which will in turn support the economic prosperity of the Agago District.

Meet the Team

Victoria Lyczak: I am a junior studying management consulting and theology originally from Wichita, KS. I started working with St. Bakhita’s in the fall of 2022 when I took Innovation & Design Thinking with Professor Wendy Angst. I worked on the digital literacy project last semester, which was particularly challenging and rewarding given the differences in language and technology available in the U.S. and Uganda. Working with St. Bakhita’s has opened my eyes to the possibility of social impact consulting. I had been searching for a way to use consulting to serve my community and/or communities around the world, and working with St. Bakhita’s has shown me a way to make this dream a reality! This summer, I will be working with four management professors at Notre Dame as a research assistant. I hope to continue to support ND’s impact consulting work next year by providing support and mentorship to the next group of students working on projects with St. Bakhita’s, especially those working on the book project, digital literacy project, or early childhood development project.

Grace Kanehann: I am a senior studying Marketing, and Computing and Digital Technologies from Detroit, Michigan. I started working with St. Bakhita’s in the spring of 2022 in Profesor Wendy Angst’s Innovation and Design class. Last semester, my peers and I pitched a line of sustainable rosaries made of recycled paper beads as well as a rosary making kit and virtual tutorial experience. This semester, I chose to continue my work with St. Bakhita’s through the Applied Impact Consulting class, also taught by Professor Angst. This semester, my team is organizing and co-writing a biography detailing the life of the Head of School at St. Bakhita’s, Victoria Nyanjura, that will be available in the Notre Dame Bookstore and beyond. In March 2023, I traveled to St. Bakhita’s for 10 days. It was a privilege to visit St. Bakhita's and walk with the students and their dreams. Our 15-hour days were packed with learnings and laughs that will last a lifetime. After graduating from Notre Dame, I will continue to support Notre Dame Impact Consulting and St. Bakhita’s missions by working with Professor Angst and the Innovation for Impact Club, and possibly returning to Uganda. Once I start my full-time job, I plan to act as a resource for the next group of students working on the jewelry and biography projects. After graduation, I will be working as a Consultant for the Customer Solutions team at KPMG LLC in New York City.

Alaina Reed: I am a sophomore studying Global Affairs in the Keough School of Global Affairs and minoring in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Mendoza College of Business from Ashland, Ohio. I became involved with St. Bakhita’s through Innovation and Design Thinking with Professor Theresa Foley this semester. Based on Professor Foley’s recommendation, I applied and was accepted to the Applied Impact Consulting class where I am a part of “Victoria’s Visionaries”, a team facilitating the creation of Victoria’s biography. In Innovation and Design Thinking, I work on one of the rosary and jewelry projects, where our team is determining the most viable option within the jewelry and rosary market for the St. Bakhita’s students to create and sell. I have the opportunity to continue work with St. Bakhita’s for the next two years, and my goal is to have Victoria’s biography come to market before I graduate. This opportunity has strengthened me both as a policy and consulting student. I plan to work in global development and policy after graduation, and will continue to stay involved with Impact Consulting in any way that can be of use to further projects. My goal is to one day lead an immersion trip.

Kearney McKiernan: I am a junior studying Management Consulting with a minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from New Canaan, Connecticut. I was first introduced to Saint Bakhita’s and the initiatives of Professor Wendy Angst during the Fall of 2022. I was lucky enough to travel to Saint Bakhita's Vocational School where I was involved in the rosary team, and most recently have transitioned to helping publish Victoria’s moving story in Spring of 2023. As a member of Victoria’s Visionaries, I have spent the past semester taking a deep dive into the world of publishing and writing a biography. It has been a great opportunity to use the knowledge and experience of being at Saint Bakhita’s to immerse myself in the possibilities of telling the story of Victoria. The book writing space has always been fascinating and Victoria’s journey deserves to be highlighted on a national scale to empower others to chase education and have hope. I am fortunate to have another year to help Saint Bakhita’s in any way possible, and plan to stay involved with the book team through the next year to see Victoria’s story published! This summer I am working as a Human Resources Analyst in New York City for the private equity firm, SK Capital. Following my 2024 graduation, I hope to pursue a career in Consulting, leveraging the lessons I have learned in Impact Consulting this semester!


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