March 7, 2013
By Mike Killeen
Webster's defines the word piggery as "a place where swine are kept."
For five students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, a piggery could also be defined as a global entrepreneurial experience.
The students - CSB senior Laurel Kennedy, CSB juniors Alyssa Overton and Tess Foster and SJU juniors Andrew Mueller and Ben Broos - helped build a piggery at Hope Academy, a school in Kyetume, Uganda, in late December and early January.
The piggery, which will house up to 32 pigs, will generate income for the community, enabling it to sustain the teachers' salaries at Hope Academy, a school whose mission is to empower the youth of Uganda. Nearly 60 percent of the approximately 150 students enrolled at the academy are orphans.
"Our project itself helps out the community and the school in a lot of different ways," said Mueller, who is majoring in management and Spanish from Arden Hills, Minn. "Hopefully, with the money this business generates, Hope Academy and the village of Kyetume will further develop and begin to prosper."
"It's one of the more impressive things that I've seen a group of students do in a long time," said Paul Marsnik, associate professor of global business leadership at CSB/SJU.
This isn't the first time a CSB/SJU connection has involved Hope Academy.
The academy was founded by the Rev. John Mary Lugemwa, OSB, who graduated in 2007 from SJU and resided at Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville. In 2005, while still a student at SJU, he led a group of 11 CSB/SJU students on a service learning trip to Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, which ultimately resulted in formation of the Uganda Rural Fund and Hope Academy. Several campus groups have sold "Hope Beads," and the campus filmmaking group Extending the Link filmed its 2010 documentary "Essubi: Growing Up With Hope" on location.
Last year, two SJU seniors, John Burns and Cole Schiffler, helped build a chicken coop at the school. When they returned to campus, they told their story to many - including to Mueller and Broos.
"Traveling to Uganda and working side-by-side with local tradesmen is not the usual student experience," said Terri Barreiro, director of the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at CSB/SJU. "We encourage students to find opportunities to try out their new skills and knowledge in real world situations, where what you decide and do makes a difference to others."
"The relationship is really more than just monetary," said Lugemwa, who was ordained a priest in May 2012. "There is an intercultural exchange that goes on in both sides of the relationship; our people have gotten to learn about the people and culture of the United States and Minnesota in particular through stories shared in Uganda. I believe that the CSB and SJU students have gained an appreciation of our Ugandan culture, lifestyle and way of doing things. There is mutual respect, understanding and collaboration involved."
The five students spent the summer and fall raising funds from various sources, including two concerts by Mueller's and Broos' band, Punch Flex, which won the 2012 Battle of the Bands competition at CSB/SJU; donations from families and friends, Students in Free Enterprise, the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship; the SJU Student Senate and the CSB Student Senate; and a "generous donation" from SJU alumnus Jim Rausch and his wife, Lori.
In all, the group raised $22,500, which was used for airfare, construction materials and the purchase of 16 piglets, the first guests in the piggery.
"Toward the end of the construction, Andrew, Ben and I went to the local town and picked up 16 piglets from a local family who was raising them," Kennedy said. "We bought them, and put them in the back of our car and brought them back."
Marsnik said the students gain both a personal and educational change from the experience.
"I think something happens when a person embarks on a trip like this," Marsnik said. "First of all, they have to be willing to take the leap and really, really get out of their comfort zone to do it. It changes them in some really dramatic ways for the rest of their lives."
But there's also an entrepreneurial component as well.
"If you want to help people and make the world a better place, listening is the key," Marsnik said. "They (the students) are saying, 'We're willing to help. How can we help you?' The Ugandans are saying, 'You can help us by raising some funds so we can build a chicken coop, or a piggery.' "
"It's a very fitting project for a lot of things our schools (CSB and SJU) stand for, and we know our efforts have impacted not only the students of Hope Academy, but the students here on our campuses as well," Mueller said. "This experience definitely changed me as a person, and I'm very grateful for all the support we've gotten along the way."
That undoubtedly makes Lugemwa very proud.
"I hope the experience will transform their lives, inspiring them to do different things at home and abroad like it did for the first group in 2005," Lugemwa said.
"I haven't been to Hope Academy, but I feel like I've been there because the students have been there," Marsnik said. "My guess is that these students will be evangelists for life for Hope Academy."