I’m a proponent of the idea that everyone should strive to be a global citizen: someone who actively strives to participate in and understand diverse cultures found around the world, learning to view perceived differences as opportunities for collaboration, empathy, and innovation. Between traveling to Uganda in March and continuing the project stateside today, working to reimagine St. Bakhita’s truly embraces such ideals.
Being able to visit St. Bakhita’s in March, directly hearing and interacting with students, staff, and other experts in their respective fields, was not only integral to the Innovation & Design project, but inspiring as well. From a practical, class standpoint, gathering invaluable ethnographic data to more intimately understand the current situation and available resources and capabilities surrounding our challenge was immensely helpful. Activities such as actually walking through the farm with beautiful shea nut trees, learning more about opportunities for and witnessing examples of women entrepreneurship, and realizing a sufficient shift away from charcoal power, especially for cooking, is (sadly) impractical, enables us to develop solutions which will be highly informed and, consequently, legitimately feasible. Knowing that our solutions have significant potential to be implemented has only reinvigorated my determination to give the project 120% of my energy.
As for my personal takeaways from our adventures abroad before a global shutdown, the people with whom we interacted were unbelievably inspiring. Moments like speaking with BOSCO’s new CEO, Jennifer, and feeling the pain and passion in her voice as she spoke about female empowerment, hearing the aspirations of St. Bakhita’s teacher, Evalyn, to serve as a role model of female entrepreneurship through craft for her students, or learning from Christine, the mastermind behind one of the most fuel- and cost-effective stoves in the country, led to an understanding that, regardless of how grandiose or “good” an idea may be, the people who make such ideas reality are the true keys to success. At times, the situations we strive to improve appear hopeless, especially when tangled in a complex web of social structures built to maintain a hierarchical status quo. However, individuals like Jennifer, Evalyn, and Christine are proof that beneath the surface of struggle exists small, but powerful, catalysts of positive change. Such passion provided me with hope for not only the future of our class’s solutions, but my own future journey into social entrepreneurship post-graduation.
Today, nearly six months since returning from our trip, continuing our mission to reestablish St. Bakhita as the center for women empowerment and leadership development in Northern Uganda still provides me with the same sense of hope and inspiration. Professionally, I’ve been exposed to the hidden nuances of project management and the chaotically beautiful process of discovering new partners and coordinating activities across each of them to capitalize upon their unique strengths, learn from their experiences, and maximize our collective impact (all in the midst of a pandemic). Personally, our work on this project has given me nothing short of a sense of purpose in life; waking up knowing that each day provides an opportunity to take another step forward toward our vision of sustainably reinvigorating communities in a region once plagued by destruction, an opportunity to better understand the lives and challenges of others halfway around the globe, empathizing with them to create innovative solutions, and an opportunity to bring others along on the journey.