by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern
Shanti Uganda made a very wise and strategic move when they hired Project Director (Operations), Victoria Acen, in December last year. Victoria was born in Moshi, Tanzania, but moved to Lira, Uganda with her parents when she was about 2 years old. Her family is a polygamous one comprising of two mothers, 4 sisters and 5 brothers. They have a family home in Kampala where she has lived and finished her primary, secondary and university studies. Today I sat down with her to talk about her new position at Shanti and dreams for the future.
So Victoria, what’s been your career path so far and how did you end up with this leadership position in Kasana?
I began working in community development shortly after graduating from university. The positions were primarily in northern Uganda – Lira, Kitgum, Gulu and Karamoja with organisations that included Child Fund International and International Rescue Committee. I’ve always enjoyed building capacity within communities primarily through leadership development, in areas such as sexual and reproductive health and gender based violence programming. I realized about 3 years ago that I needed to return back to school for my Master’s Degree, which I am in my final stages of completing, so that I could become more effective and increase opportunities available to me.
Memories given to me from my Dad. He has always been a leader and a real people person. He was involved in politics and cared about what happened to those around him. We always had a full house with lots of friends involved in helping him with projects. I learned how to be generous with everything I have because of him. He taught me to always give to those in need.
How did you hear about Shanti Uganda?
I was searching for new opportunities a couple of years ago when I saw the position of Project Coordinator posted online. I applied and went through the interview process, but at the time I was still too immersed in school to be able to commit to a full time position. Sadie St. Denis (current Executive Director) phoned me this past fall to see if I was still interested in Project Director position with Shanti. I underwent a formal interview process and was selected!
Shanti is still a young and growing NGO with lots of potential for growth. What dreams do you have for the organization?
I have lots of dreams for Shanti (big smile). I would love to see the Women’s Income Generating Group (WIGG) prosper and each cohort eventually become self-sustaining and independent so that we can bring in another group of HIV ladies and build into them. The biggest barrier for many of these women is lack of self-confidence. I want to go visit each of these women at their homes, hear their stories and build a level of trust with them so that they can trust me, trust each other, support and grow stronger together. I would like to see projects like peanut butter and honey production take off.
I would also like to help local schools develop a sexual and reproductive health curriculum in addition to our teen workshops Shanti runs currently. We need to start having open discussions and education in these areas. I see an effective mentorship program working among peers, where 1 or 2 students are taught and developed and they can act as leaders amongst their peers groups. I’m currently conducting my MPHL (Master in Public Health Leadership) research in this area.
Finally, I see an increase in quality and services offered at the birthing center at Shanti. I want to keep improving standards and increase services like cervical screening for women and increase the number of continuing medical education opportunities for staff so we can bring new ideas, passion and training to support them. I am also looking forward to increasing our capacity for advocacy through mobile community health outreaches in surrounding villages. I would like to see a few people in the community taught and supported well, so that they can become effective health leaders within their own villages. I think that is the most effective way to benefit a community.
What do you see are the biggest challenges for Shanti at this time?
Well, we are still a young NGO so finding donors is always a challenge. I would love to secure a few large donors that will commit to us for a few years. With that resource behind us, we can surely grow.
Victoria, you are always smiling when I see you. What are you most thankful for?
I am most thankful for my daughter, Angelica, who will be 8 years old in April. I am also grateful to Shanti for this opportunity. I wake up every morning knowing that this is what I’m meant to do. The future is so bright. There is so much to do but not enough time to do it all!