A school by one woman's story and
by a vision to empower girls.
We are more than just a school.
Saint Bakhita’s Vocational Training Center (Saint Bakhita’s) is a girls-only boarding school in Kalongo, Uganda. Founded in 2007, Saint Bakhita’s was created to provide educational opportunities for young women that had been abducted and held captive by the LRA, returning home, often with children, after missing years of education. Saint Bakhita’s was named in honor of St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of modern slavery and human trafficking.
In partnership with Notre Dame, and in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Gulu, Saint Bakhita’s re-launched in November, 2021 with the creation of the Innovation Scholars program, to reimagine a new way to deliver vocational education. The first cohort of 78 Innovation Scholars were given the opportunity to learn a vocational skill (tailoring, hair dressing, agriculture, or catering), while also receiving foundational training in agroforestry, computers, financial management and entrepreneurship. Since then, 156 students over two cohorts have graduated from St. Bakhita. Students at Saint Bakhita’s work closely with students at Notre Dame to collaborate on entrepreneurial innovations, and together work closely with the community to ensure innovations have a broad, positive impact on the economic prosperity of the region.
Meet Saint Bakhita’s Head of School – Victoria Nyanjura
Victoria is a ‘20 Notre Dame graduate from the Masters of Global Affairs program and is a driving force behind the successful collaboration between Saint Bakhita’s and Notre Dame. Victoria herself is a survivor of the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict. In 1996, at the age of 14, Victoria was abducted from school in Aboke, Uganda. She was held captive for 8 years before escaping with her two young children in her arms. Leading with both heart and mind, Victoria has helped lead a revival of Saint Bakhita’s, working closely with students, staff, and the community to demonstrate through actions and words all that is possible. Aside from her role leading Saint Bakhita’s, Victoria is the founder of Women in Action for Women (WAW), an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women through vocational and business training, and empowering women through storytelling.
Two schools unite, an ocean away.
Professor Wendy Angst began working with Saint Bakhita’s as a partner in her Innovation and Design Thinking course in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2020. With support from a generous endowment to support experiential learning in her classroom, Professor Angst was able to travel with a team of students to conduct ethnographic research and test prototypes at Saint Bakhita’s in March, 2020. That experience would change Professor Angst, the students, and her classes, for years to come.
Fast forward to today and Professor Angst offers students the opportunity to learn problem solving, and problem framing, through the lens of empathy. Following design thinking principles, students immerse themselves in the challenge, define the user-centered needs, ideate solutions, develop prototypes, and test them to de-risk before implementing. The Mary S. Pulido Technology Center, a state of the art computer lab donated by benefactors, enables Notre Dame students to work closely with Innovation Scholars, collaborating on the full design thinking process and ultimately in creating innovations.
In line with the Notre Dame mission and values, students do more than just make a recommendation – they build it! With generous support from the Pulido-Walker Foundation, students have the opportunity each semester to receive funding to work with Saint Bakhita’s to implement their ideas. To date students have launched a program to combat deforestation, an e-commerce platform to sell items made by students at Saint Bakhita’s, and implemented a remote tutoring program aimed at improving literacy, to name but a few!
The collaboration with Notre Dame has also resulted in an advisory board where industry experts help coach student teams, the Innovation for Impact Club that enables students across campus to engage in creating Innovation for Impact, and the Innovation Fellows program for students to work in-country with Saint Bakhita’s on project implementation. Students can also participate in a sequence of classes that enable a multi-year academic engagement, including an Immersion Course where students travel in-country, and a consulting course, Applied Impact Consulting, where students build their concepts and work with Saint Bakhita’s to launch them.
Expanding access to education and enabling remote tutoring and mentoring
Building out community engagement opportunities for young and old alike
Powering the school with solar and planting charcoal trees to combat deforestation
Areas of Impact
Empowering students and community members to tell their stories
Facilitating collaborative work on innovation opportunities with Innovation Scholars at Saint Bakhita's and students at Notre Dame
Creating a marketplace for products handmade at Saint Bakhita's
The Innovation Scholars at Saint Bakhita's Vocational Training Center work hand-in-hand with students at the University of Notre Dame to apply design thinking principles to identify areas of opportunity, ideate solutions, develop and test prototypes, and then implement these solutions for impact. This work will enable Saint Bakhita's to be self-sustaining, while empowering Innovation Scholars to reimagine their futures and build stronger communities. Check back soon for exciting updates on these projects.