The Carolina Center for Public Service website features health policy and management undergraduate Jen Serdetchnaia. Her story is reprinted here with permission.
Studying abroad, while valuable can be a daunting experience-- the language barrier and the cultural adjustment can present challenges, and the potential of feeling overwhelmed is common.
UNC undergraduate Jen Serdetchnaia, left, and Immaculate Okurut, a senior financal officer for the Mircofinance Support Centre, co-founded Empower U to educate and empower women in Uguanda.
But Jen Serdetchnaia '12, a health policy and management major in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, is no stranger to the experience. As a Buckley Public Service Scholar participant and an APPLES Social Entrepreneur Fellow, she has sought out opportunities to study abroad, looking forward to the challenges.
With the creation of Empower U, a women's education effort in Uganda, Serdetchnaia proved to herself and others that there is a way to combine an interest in public service, social innovation and traveling abroad.
Serdetchnaia, along with two other UNC students and Immaculate Okurut, her local partner in Uganda, developed Empower U to promote women's rights in rural Uganda by giving them the tools and the opportunity to finance their own post-secondary educations. Serdetchnaia's background in entrepreneurship inspired her to provide financial skills training to empower uneducated Ugandan women.
"I wanted [Empower U] to be more than just another nonprofit organization in Uganda, so I created a training program for women to work with a microfinance institution," she said.
Serdetchnaia's idea for Empower U began with her three-month internship with the Microfinance Support Center in Uganda in the summer of 2009. During that time, she and Okurut provided 10 goats to 10 young girls so they could practice rearing animals for sale and money saving skills.
With the funds from the Social Entrepreneur Fellowship, Serdetchnaia was able to travel again to Uganda in December of the same year to purchase 30 pigs for 30 more girls, as well as establish a training program at Carolina to prepare many more students to serve in ambassadorial positions. The now 60 young girls involved in Empower U are expected to continue raising their animals until they have enough animals to sell to farmers. The profit from the sales will be deposited in a local microfinance bank for the girls' post-secondary educations.
Making her project one that continually helped new young girls was one of Serdetchnaia's goals. She did not want her project to stop with only aiding 60 young girls. The financial training is designed to be valuable to the original recipient as well as to future young people who receive passed down knowledge, skills and training so they, too, can succeed.
Because of Serdetchnaia's dedication to the program's success, Empower U has been widely accepted at Carolina. "It is amazing having something that was just a concept written down on a napkin become an idea picked up by others," she said.
Believing that Empower U opens the door for other students to get involved with a specific project, Serdetchnaia hopes the process of studying abroad will become more about service to others. Today, training for Empower U helps prepare students to travel to Uganda to conduct evaluations, consult and expand the project. And though it is Serdetchnaia's last year as a student at Carolina, she is confident that Empower U will grow and expand in ways that she's never imagined; empowering young women in Uganda and beyond.
Serdetchnaia works with an Empower U beneficiary at a letter-writing workshop.
Empower U beneficiaries raise pigs to finance post-secondary education.
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UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or email@example.com.