One of the aspects of the PAUSE campaign that excited me the most was that I could never be sure where meeting an alumni might take place. Because our alumni have taken jobs in so many different fields, I’ve found taken place in offices and laboratories and universities libraries, but this time I would find myself in the headquarters of the Bank of America in New York City.
If you, like me, have ever wandered past any very tall impressive looking building and wondered what kind of people might work inside, the answer can be found in Sandra Martha Batakana, Pestalozzi alumni of 2015 and Investment Banking Analyst.
I only had about 30 minutes to chat with Sandra, but we certainly managed to cram a lot in to our time together. Instantly friendly, warm and wonderful company, one of the things I loved the most about meeting her was the enthusiasm that seemed to spill out of her. Before we’d even had a chance to sit down she had said y experience in my life it would be my Pestalozzi one. I think about it every day. It was so valuable to me and I still speak about it.’
The Bank of America office is high up besides Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan and we found a place to sit – in a cafeteria on the trading floor, surrounded by clocks showing the time zones of other countries and people working on three different computer screens at once all lined with colourful codes and numbers. I could not imagine a world further away from Iganga in Uganda where Sandra grew up.
‘My dad lost his job when I was 14 – he was a sub county chief. This changed our lives and got us in deep poverty, my parents had to take loans out to keep me and my 6 siblings in school. Given those circumstances, I think I would have just tried to get a scholarship in Uganda. I don’t think I would have been able to do what I’ve done now in terms of giving back to my family and my community. I guided my sister through university applications and I can now help my other siblings by paying their tuition. It’s hard to even think about life without Pestalozzi.’
Sandra was selected for the Pestalozzi scholarship in 2013 and studied in the UK for two years under the International Baccalaureate programme. She was nominated by FAWE Uganda and interviewed by Vic Hancock Fell from Pestalozzi. While in the UK, her favorite subject to study was math. She also studied Economics, a subject that even though she hated then, wouldn’t have had a chance to study in Uganda.
‘One of my favourite things during my time at Pestalozzi was volunteering at the local care home. I used to look forward to it every Sunday. I wouldn’t have done that in Uganda. I also had so much support from the care staff and Pestalozzi was just full of people who would make sure your life was going as it should be’.
In her second year at Pestalozzi, Sandra applied to Duke University where she was offered a full scholarship place.Her path to her current position working with the Bank of America wasn’t exactly a straight trajectory. Sandra graduated in 2018 with a Chemistry degree and her university application essay actually focused on her wanting to be the first female neurosurgeon in Uganda because there were only 5 male surgeons available in the country then. ‘Where I come from they think women are not supposed to be in school.’ But it was an ever growing interest in numbers whilst she was at university that led her to consider a career in finance.
Sandra told me she taught herself much of what she knows now to ensure she would be a competitive candidate when applying to work in the finance sector, as well as reaching out to others to get a foot in the door. In this sense, Pestalozzi helped Sandra in a different way, not only in assisting her with university applications, but also in the alumni network it provided to her for after her time at college. She told me these connections helped her hugely in getting the job she currently has.
‘It’s important that Pestalozzi continues to provide scholarships to young people because of the ripple effect it has – I can now support my family; without the Pestalozzi scholarship that wouldn’t have ever happened. The family nature of Pestalozzi and the exposure it gave me, were so valuable, as well as the head, heart and hands principles and making sure we built life skills’.
The thing Sandra is most proud of in her life so far is setting up a women’s charity, The Tumeruke Youth Programme, in Uganda. The non-profit was established this year in January and works to empower women economically through vocational training and mentoring. She received the funding for this idea from Duke and although she hasn’t yet met the individuals she is helping in person, there are now 60 women who have been taught in hair braiding and tailoring.
As always with the stories of our alumni, it never ends with just one person.