Journey of learning, networking and compassion beyond borders


By Bena Nekesa
“Just as plants need sun, water and good soil to thrive, people need love, work and a connection to something larger.” So says American social psychologist and author, Jonathan David Haidt. 

This epitomizes the vision of Uganda Christian University (UCU) student Racheal Drateru.  She wants to establish an orphanage, fueled by the poignant scenes of suffering children witnessed during her family travels. The images of malnourished babies, tiny girls carrying jerrycans of water, boys toiling in the fields and malaria infection without medicine or mosquito protection inspire this deeper calling.

Racheal Drateru, right, with a student in her international studies cohort in Holland in 2023.
Racheal Drateru, right, with a student in her international studies cohort in Holland in 2023.

The desire to help such communities is reinforced by her studies in the UCU school of Social Sciences and part of who she is, including her 2023 international studies at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. While there, she also got the chance of traveling to other cities and countries such as Paris in France, Copenhagen in Denmark and Hamburg in Germany.

Racheal Drateru found herself at the crossroads of a life-altering opportunity when her department head, Kasule Solomon Kibirige, introduced the possibility of a study exchange program to the Netherlands. On February 2, 2023, Racheal ,accompanied by two other students, embarked on a six-month journey to the country in northwestern Europe.

Despite initial hesitations, Racheal stood as a lucky student among the 15 applicants for the study exchange program which embraced her chance to broaden horizons. The excitement of this venture prompted Racheal to share the news with her father, Moses Draza, a Christian and a social worker, whose character influenced his daughter. Racheal is also blessed with a mother and step-mother, both business ladies supporting her dreams. She choose UCU through the influence of her parents and a match with her Christian character.

Racheal on her bicycle – the regular mode of transportation in the Netherlands.
Racheal on her bicycle – the regular mode of transportation in the Netherlands.

Navigating the Dutch culture proved challenging for Racheal as she grappled with the emphasis on punctuality and the persistent cold weather. Yet, she maintained a positive mindset, focusing on the primary objectives of networking, making enduring friendships, and academic growth. Racheal’s time in the Netherlands fostered an openness to diverse perspectives, encouraging her fellow students to embrace opportunities for cross-cultural exploration. 

Beyond the academic benefits, Racheal’s journey abroad served to further crystalize her vision to help others. Instead of starting an orphanage, she realized the value of first working with a child-based NGO. 

“Students at Hanze were open-minded and free,” she said. “I thought more freely and clearer about how to accomplish my vision.  I started thinking, too, about how I could work with refugees.” Racheal’s advice to others engaged in international study is: “Learn to be open minded and embrace cross-cultural communication.”

Expressing heartfelt gratitude to her lecturers for guidance, Racheal age 22,  continues to be committed to a personal project aimed at aiding the vulnerable in her community. 

As Rachael Drateru returned to Uganda in July 26, 2023, her journey became a testimony to the transformative power of education, cultural immersion, and the unwavering support of family. “Beyond Borders” became a rallying cry for students to seize opportunities, embrace diversity, and wield education as a potent tool for positive change in their communities, Racheal’s indomitable spirit of learning, networking, and compassion.

Racheal hails from Arua city, a Lugbara by tribe from Ayivu. In addition to her parents, she has eight siblings. She obtained her secondary education from St. Mary’s boarding secondary school,  a school that in 2020 led her to UCU, working toward a bachelor’s degree in social work. 

“My advice for the rest of the students is never take an opportunity for granted because it’s a blessing since not everyone is able to attain it,” she said. “This enables one to travel across borders and network with others from other countries, including learning new things that are not in your country.