St. Bakhita’s Relationship with the University of Notre Dame

Located in the rural township of Kalongo, Uganda, St. Bakhita’s Vocational Training Center’s (SBVTC) mission is to be a school which provides a comprehensive education that empowers women to design and implement creative solutions to challenges faced by their community. To achieve this, St. Bakhita’s creates hands-on curricula that teach students the skills needed to become change agents in their home communities as they tackle Uganda’s most pressing issues.

The University of Notre Dame began its relationship with St. Bakhita’s in the Spring of 2020. As a part of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship class offered through the University’s Mendoza College of Business, students were charged with exploring different areas of improvement that could benefit St. Bakhita’s as an institution and enrich St. Bakhita’s students’ curriculums. Nine students were given the opportunity to travel to Uganda and visit St. Bakhita’s in the Spring of 2020 as a part of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship class experience, exploring how the class’ ideas could benefit the St. Bakhita’s community. The T.R.E.E.S Initiative was developed as a result of this trip, as the team had the opportunity to assess St. Bakhita’s needs and explore potential areas of growth for the school. The T.R.E.E.S Initiative stands for Teaching Reforestation & Entrepreneurial Empowerment @ St. Bakhita’s. The goals of this initiative include combating the serious deforestation issue faced by Uganda as well as empowering young women with entrepreneurial education and tools. By March of 2021, the University of Notre Dame plans to launch a 50-acre reforestation program at St. Bakhita’s composed of soil-friendly fruit and coppicable, sustainable charcoal. Through the tree farm, St. Bakhita’s will teach students the practical skills and value of agroforestry and environmental preservation, while equipping them with the entrepreneurial knowledge needed to develop a sense of empowerment, selling harvests from the tree farm.

Uganda is in the midst of a deforestation crisis that, without intervention, will result in the loss of all of its forests by 2060. In the last 25 years, 63% of forests in Uganda have been destroyed due to rapid urbanization, increased energy demands, and civil war. This has left the country in a dire situation, one that we aim to help correct. Today, charcoal is still the main source of fuel for the country, especially within households for cooking and heating. This dependency has resulted in explosive planting of quick-growing, non-native trees to meet the ever-increasing demand. While introducing cleaner energy sources, such as solar power, is the ideal solution, due to financial constraints, charcoal is still the most affordable and prevalent option. Through the tree farm, St. Bakhita’s will plant fruit and carbon-efficient charcoal trees across 50 acres of land for sustainable harvesting and carbon capture, introduce a variety of soil-safe fruit trees for increased biodiversity in the region, and manufacture and sell carbon-efficient and carbon-neutral charcoal for widespread use in households to aid in a reduction of carbon output.

Through classroom teaching followed by hands-on experience, the students of St. Bakhita’s will gain valuable entrepreneurship skills which they will be able to utilize in their lives far beyond their time in school. This initiative will empower the female students of St. Bakhita’s to take control of their own futures through practical lessons in planting crops and taking their products to market to earn a living. Specifically, the students will learn from experienced teachers how to plant, tend to, and harvest from a variety of trees in a sustainable manner. They will then be taught valuable marketing and sales techniques to sell their products locally and abroad. The initiative will also provide students with an opportunity to cover their tuition with fruit sales. Upon the completion of this training, the students will be able to individually support profitable, sustainable agroforestry endeavors, thus empowering them to be future change makers in their communities, sharing with community leaders and members the knowledge they learned at St. Bakhita’s and serving as an inspirational role-model for younger girls.

In conclusion, this program will teach students about Uganda’s deforestation crisis and give them an understanding of how their work at St. Bakhita’s contributes to a greener future for the country. By witnessing and participating in the T.R.E.E.S Initiative, St. Bakhita’s students will transform into fluent advocates for environmental preservation. Furthermore, young women will be empowered through a curriculum that provides and teaches entrepreneurial skills.

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