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The Spirit of Encounter A new program aims to make global education opportunities available to students before graduation

"Not just seeing, but looking; not just hearing, but listening; not just passing people by, but stopping with them; not just saying 'what a shame, poor people!' but allowing yourself to be moved with compassion; and then to draw near, to touch and to say: 'Do not weep' and to give at least a drop of life."

-Pope Francis

The idea of encounter is something that Pope Francis talks about a lot in Catholic theology. The emerging theme seems to touch the deepest part of the Christian vocation, encouraging the faithful to be fearless and look beyond their own needs. In short, the Pope is challenging us all to “step out” and encounter new people and new communities.

The theological idea of encounter is something that undergirded a new global education pilot program at the University of Notre Dame, created by Rev. Matthew Kuczora, C.S.C. At the time, he was participating in the University’s Leadership Rotation Program at Notre Dame International. He was conducting research and studying NDI’s strategic plan for internationalizing the University.

Kuczora, who also serves as rector of Dunne Hall, focused on international opportunities available to students. The Institute for International Education ranked Notre Dame second among doctorate-granting universities for undergraduate participation during 2016-2017. According to the latest numbers, roughly 70% of undergraduate students will have participated in study abroad by the time they graduate. While he found that number to be substantial, Kuczora wondered about the other 30% of students. He started researching the reasons why this group did not study abroad. Four themes emerged from his research: academic schedule conflicts, financial costs, student-athlete training schedules, and fear of going abroad.

“At the core, many of those students really had a fear of going abroad alone,” says Kuczora. “I started thinking about our strengths as a great dorm community and wondered if we could leverage that to encourage these students who may be hesitant to take advantage of an opportunity abroad.”

Kuczora created a pilot program that tested his thesis that “affinity groups motivate hesitant students to participate in international experiences.” His program, which was presented to Notre Dame International, was a week-long trip to Uganda during fall break that targeted students who have limited experiences abroad. With the financial support of NDI and Student Affairs, as well as support from the Center for Social Concerns and the Holy Cross network, applications opened for the new program in spring 2019. More than 100 students applied, but after a rigorous interview process, 20 students were chosen for the program from both Dunne and Cavanaugh Halls.

October 19-20 - Travel days

October 21, 2019 – Introduction to Uganda

The group arrived! Their first stop was at the Ugandan Martyrs Shrine, which commemorates the deaths of 32 Ugandan people in 1886. Three popes have visited this site, including Pope Francis in 2015.

The group continued to Jinja, where they walked across the new bridge on the Nile.

They ultimately arrived at Andre house, the formation house Congregation of Holy Cross in Uganda. This is where the group stayed for the duration of the trip.

October 22, 2019 – First encounter with St. Ursula Special School

Highlights

8:30am: Bus to St. Ursula Special School for children with mental and physical handicaps

12:00pm: Leave to walk to St. Andre House for lunch

3:00-4:30pm: Afternoon reflection with the whole group

5:00pm: Evening guest speaker (Sr. Mary Lou Wahler, CSC)

Daily reflection: Alex Pereira

“We started off today by taking the bus over to St. Ursula’s Special School. It’s the only school for children with special needs in eastern Uganda, and it provides the students who attend a chance at life that otherwise would not have been available to them. I spent most of my time playing a game with a non-verbal girl. The game was pretty simple, as it only involved her guessing which hand I had a bottle cap in, but it was something which fascinated her for over an hour. It was an outpouring of pure love from both her and me, and in a country where special needs are so stigmatized, I think that these kinds of connections are exactly what these children deserve. I think St. Ursula’s is doing a great job at providing this, and I wish them all the best after we leave.”

October 23, 2019 – First encounter with Lake view

7:30am: All-School Assembly at Lake View High school – group introduction

8-9:30am: School introduction and overview with Sr. Beatrice, tour of school grounds and dormitories

9:30-11:00am: 2nd period classroom observations

11:00am: Break for tea time with staff members from respective class observations

1:00pm: Lunch with students

1:30pm: Meet small group of students, share conversation

3:00pm: Presentation and group reflection time facilitated by Br. Adolf

4:30pm: All-school mass

6:30pm: Rosary with St. Andre house

Daily reflection: Kassandra Perez

"I really enjoyed talking to the teachers and hearing the different backgrounds they were all from, and why they decided to go into teaching in the first place. It was evident that there was a lot of pride in their culture and that they were incredibly welcoming to guests. However, I think being able to talk with some of the students one on one was my favorite part. They were so hardworking and put so much dedication into their work. It was incredible to see such passion in the students, passion that I don’t see in American students at times. It was definitely disheartening however to hear some of the students say they were limited in their studies due to funding. We have so many opportunities in America that some people definitely take for granted. it’s sad to see such passion being shut down due to lack of resources."

October 24, 2019 – St. Benedict’s + return to Lake view for sports day

Highlights

8:30am: Bus to St. Benedict’s Parish Clinic; divide into two groups to not overwhelm clinic staff

3:00pm: Afternoon reflection with the whole group

4:30-6:30pm: Return to Lake View for sports day

6:30pm: Adoration with St. Andre House

8:45pm: Walk through Bugembe at night

Daily reflection: Anthony Giuliano

"While Thursday was filled with plenty of meaningful experiences, my favorite part of the day was our return to Holy Cross Lake view Secondary School to play sports with the students. We started our field day throwing around an American football, teaching the students the technique of how to hold and throw the football. After doing that for a short while, we transitioned to Ugandan football, or as we Americans know it, soccer. To say the least, the members of Lake view are incredibly good at football and I was admittedly a bit intimidated. We joined the faculty team and played some of the students.
While football was clearly not my game, I had such an incredible time playing with my Ugandan friends. They were incredibly welcoming and encouraging despite my lack of ability. I felt like in a lot of ways this game was representative of our experience here. While in many ways I am a stranger here and a stranger to the game of football, I could not have felt more at home playing alongside these guys. For our entire stay I have felt welcomed and celebrated. And when I scored the winning goal of our football match, I was certainly made to feel celebrated. In just a single 90 minute match, I had an experience that I will forever remember as a symbol of what these people have come to mean to me. For that, I will be forever grateful.”

October 25, 2019 – Reinforce connections at Lake view and St. Ursula’s

Highlights

8:30am: Bus to Lake View High School and St. Ursula’s (split group) to reinforce connections

2:30-5:30pm: Field day with Holy Cross postulants at St. Andre House

6:30pm: Dinner out in Jinja

Daily reflection: Matt Schoenbauer

I’ve dealt with more surprising, challenging, and confusing experiences than I can really handle right now, so I’m going to start with some concrete points in time order, and I’ll do the abstractions and applications later.
The kindness and hospitality that the Ugandan people displayed to our group is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Many of our interactions with the people of Uganda have had some musical component, and the display of broad musical competence (in Church or school assemblies) blows away anything I’ve seen in America.
The students at St. Ursula’s (a school for the disabled) were loving and lovable in a way that was seriously powerful and completely unfamiliar to me.
Lake view gave a mix of impressions on me and my fellow students. The children at this school have a shocking amount of focus and dedication, which was impressive despite what appeared to us to be poor working and living conditions. However, relative to the Ugandan standard, these students were very well off, and it’s not totally clear that the support provided to this school would be the most effective for Uganda as a whole.
For me, this means that I am now very seriously considering spending a year after graduation working to serve these communities, understand their needs, and maintain a connection between Dunne and Lake View. I have a whole host of reasons why I think that this is a very good idea that I can’t totally explain right now, but if I’ve learned anything from this trip, it’s that any attempts for change are ineffective without time, energy, and financial resources directed both at understanding problems and implementing the best possible solution.

October 26, 2019 – Final reflection + travel

Highlights

7am: Mass at St. Andre House

8:15am: Bus to Njeru for reflection (30 minute drive)

10:30am: Return to Andre House to pack and organize for trip home (bus)

4:30pm: Dinner out near McCauley House (District Headquarters) in Kampala

6:45pm: Depart for Entebbe Airport

Post-experience integration plans

Ari + Kayleigh + Nick:

Creating a pen pal program with students at Holy Cross Lake View Secondary School to continue to share stories and advise on preparation for college.

Mary Grace + Alex + Allison:

Creating a market for handmade goods from St. Ursula Special School by selling them in Cavanaugh and Dunne Halls.

Kassandra + Diego:

Fundraising to purchase a wifi router and 12-months of internet service for Holy Cross Lake View Secondary School.

Sarah:

Presented at her high school world religion class about her experiences of Catholicism in Uganda.

Nicole Rose:

Created unique photobooks for several hosts including the seminary community, the Holy Cross Lake View Secondary School dorms, St. Ursula’s Special School and the bus driver.

Matt:

Designing a 12-month, post-graduate service experience at Holy Cross Lake View Secondary School to develop a computer science program. Matt also organized a group of four students from this experience (Diego, Mary Grace, and Nick) to donate a small portion of their incomes five years into their working careers to support the Holy Cross missions in Uganda.

A special thanks to Notre Dame International, Division of Student Affairs, the Center for social concerns, and the Holy Cross network.

Created By
Colleen Wilcox
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