Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Jacqueline Okanga



Rebuilding homes and a culture in Northern Uganda

Jacqueline Okanga prepares to help make aid programs stronger

Jackie Okanga was an experienced human rights lawyer when she traveled to Northern Uganda to work in internally displaced person (IDP) campus. But it was not her legal expertise that gave her insights into how to help.

"It wasn't until I started living and working among these people--washing dishes and fetching water--that I began to hear and understand what they needed," she says. "And after 21 years in the camps, they needed to go home."

Jackie became committed to resettling villages in Northern Uganda. And while she saw the good that outside agencies were doing, she also saw pitfalls. "Aid sometimes has unintended consequences," she says. "For example, agencies were trying to strengthen local government by training local officials. But there were so many training sessions that the officials were rarely in their offices, leaving villagers to rely even more heavily on agencies," she says.

Seeing firsthand the need for more effective policies and programs, Jackie began to consider returning to school. Then, while traveling in the U.S., Jackie spoke at Brandeis and learned of Heller's dual degree master's programs in Coexistence and Conflict and Sustainable International Development.

"I considered several schools, but I am grateful that I chose Heller," she says. "There are students from all over the world here, working on similar issues but from different perspectives...And every professor has practical experience, having been on the ground in places like Uganda...I already have so much more insight...I'm eager to return to Uganda with the tools to measure the programs I helped put in place," she says, "along with the knowledge to help make those programs stronger."

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