Mendoza School of Business

Notre Dame business student spends summer teaching, volunteering at school for disabled in Uganda

Published: August 31, 2023 / Author: Shannon Roddel

student standing with her class in Uganda

Anna Koeberlein with her English class.

Its longstanding commitment to service is one of the main reasons sophomore Anna Koeberlein from Louisville, Kentucky, chose to attend the University of Notre Dame.

Programs offered through Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns (CSC) stood out to her, and she was especially drawn to the inaugural NDBridge program.

The summer immersion challenges rising sophomores to “think hard about injustice, work with communities around the world that face it and consider their responsibility to the common good while at Notre Dame and beyond.”

And that’s precisely how she spent the summer.

An accountancy major in the Business Honors Program at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, Koeberlein lived and served in Jinja, Uganda, from May 31 through July 28.

She taught English to young students at Holy Cross Lake View school each day and volunteered at St. Ursula’s, a boarding school for Ugandan children with disabilities, twice a week.

A perfect fit.

four students in a boat on Holy Cross Lake in Uganda

Avery, Justice, Anna and Celia.

“I have a twin brother with severe cerebral palsy,” she shared, “so I knew I wanted to serve at a place that works with people with special needs. I wanted to help others like him who might not receive the same amount of love and support he has in the U.S.

“I also knew I wanted to serve abroad at a Catholic site because I wanted to grow in my own Catholic faith through witnessing Catholicism in a different cultural context.”

With zero teaching experience to lean on, Koeberlein was assigned to her Holy Cross Lake View English class under the assumption she would be co-teaching with a teacher from the school. She learned at the last minute the teacher had resigned, and she would be solo teaching everything from collaborative reading exercises to grammar lessons for 60 seventh-graders.

“Fortunately, we ended up teaching in pairs and found fulfillment in knowing we taught English to students who otherwise might not have had a teacher.”

Koeberlein lived and taught with three other Notre Dame sophomores — Celia Faroh, a finance and accounting double major; Avery Njau, Africana studies with a pre-health supplementary major; and Justice Walker, biology premed.

Each day began and ended early for the group with many new experiences in between.

The four “pod mates” lived alongside Holy Cross brothers and seminarians, who also served as temporary teachers at the school. They attended daily morning Mass. Laundry was done by hand. Mosquito nets covered the beds. There was no air conditioning and power would often fail. And Koeberlein sampled a Ugandan delicacy — nsenene, or fried grasshoppers.

In addition to teaching, she and her pod mates led other activities with the school’s 1,400 students. They started a spelling bee and played soccer, volleyball, basketball and netball with the kids. Netball is similar to basketball but with different rules and equipment.

a tray of cooked grasshoppers

Ugandan fried grasshoppers.

A Spanish supplemental major at Notre Dame, Koeberlein attempted to learn some of the Ugandan tribal languages, though she said there wasn’t much of a language barrier because most everyone spoke English.

From Holy Cross Lake View, Koeberlein walked to St. Ursula’s, where many of the 50-60 students had Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy.

“There was so much joy there,” Koeberlein said. “And it made me miss my brother.”

This year, 118 Notre Dame students participated in NDBridge with 63 placed at 16 different sites in 12 countries. The students took a course beforehand to help them develop an understanding of the common good, the ethics of working with people on the margins of society and systemic injustice. Before their immersion began they developed a research question to explore during the summer.

For Koeberlein, it was culture’s role in the education system and Catholicism in Jinja.

“I enjoyed reading Anna’s blog and journal reflections from the others in her group,” said NDBridge Co-Director Felicia Johnson O’Brien. “I witnessed their growth as they adjusted to a very new culture and learned that being present might be the most important way they would make a difference.”

Koeberlein admits her first time in Africa was humbling.

“I was surprised by how little the people complain,” she said. “The students wake up at 4 a.m., eat beans and posho — a flavorless food that looks like mashed potatoes — every day, twice a day. They don’t have phones, use toilets without seats, take tests with a very high fail rate and live away from their families at an age much younger than most people do in the U.S. Yet they rarely complain.

Notre Dame students sit with children from St. Ursula's

Anna and Celia at St. Ursula’s.

“Their joy and gratitude for life despite the schedule and environment amazes me as I reflect on how quick many of us Americans are to complain though we have much more.”

As classes begin at Notre Dame, Koeberlein is gearing up for a busy sophomore year, including activities for the Business Honors Program; St. Andre Committee, which helps welcome new students to Notre Dame; and the Student International Business Council. She also serves as a Campus Ministry retreat and small group leader and as a lector for the Lyons Hall Liturgy Team.

She hopes the public speaking, communication, leadership and problem-solving skills she sharpened in Africa will help her not only at Notre Dame, but post-graduation in the business world.

“Mendoza’s motto is ‘Grow the Good in Business,’ which reflects our belief that thinking hard about one’s moral purpose not only reflects Notre Dame’s distinctive educational mission but is also critical for leading a life well lived,” said NDBridge mentor James Otteson, the John T. Ryan Jr. Professor of Business Ethics and Business Honors Program faculty director. “One way we reach students with our distinctive mission is through the NDBridge program, which provides one more vehicle through which we can help them succeed.”

Koeberlein says in a number of ways she is forever changed.

“It definitely deepened my appreciation of family,” she said. “You don’t always need to travel 7,500 miles to love others as Jesus taught us. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminded us, ‘If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.’”

To learn more about the students’ service in Uganda, visit the blogs of AnnaJustice and Celia.