Missionary work in Africa was not a career path Pamplin College of Business alumna Erica Robertson considered until she went to a campus screening of “Invisible Children,” a documentary about the forced recruitment of child soldiers in Uganda.
“After seeing such a moving story, anyone would feel compassion for the vulnerable children in Uganda,” Robertson said. “My compassion quickly turned into an urgency to serve helpless children like those portrayed in the film.”
Robertson, who is from Appomattox, Va., earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and information systems (ACIS) in 2008 and a master’s degree in career and technical education in 2009. In May 2010, she moved to Rwanda, where she now leads an orphanage school in Nyamata, working for the Rafiki Foundation. Below, she talks about her work, its challenges, and its rewards.
“While I did, and still do, love accounting, I also understood that corporate America could not satisfy this calling I felt, and so I began looking elsewhere for how I might be useful in mission work. Education seemed like a viable option for how I might contribute.
“I found the Rafiki Foundation through a friend who also graduated from Pamplin. The mission statement of Rafiki is to ‘help Africans know God by caring for and educating orphans, providing materials and training in education and Bible study, and giving economic opportunities to widows.’ After graduation, I spent a year fundraising for my first two-year term (all Rafiki missionaries raise their own support) before leaving for Rwanda.
“When I arrived, I was placed as the education director at a new and growing school. My responsibilities include the hiring and training of all teaching staff, certification of our schools with the local government, managing day-to-day operations of the school, ensuring compliance with local standards, managing the budget, teaching, and anything else that arises pertaining to the school. My degree in ACIS has proved useful in this and another position -- I am also the back-up finance manager of the village. Other vital skills that I learned in ACIS was ensuring accountability in all areas of my work and recognizing areas where controls would be beneficial.
“One of the greatest challenges of my work is finding English-speaking teachers in a region where most people speak Kinyarwanda or French and where the demand for teachers in general is much higher than the supply.
“The rewards are greater than anyone can imagine. I have the privilege of knowing and interacting daily with every child in this village. I get to see the faces of the parents and guardians of our day students (when we do not have enough resident orphans to fill a class, we fill it with students from the community) when they are first accepted and when they hear how their child is changing and growing in school.”
“I get to see God soften the hearts of cold and malnourished children when they first arrive in Rafiki. I get to watch them grow and develop to a size appropriate for their age. I get to tell them every day how much they are loved and to teach them about the world around them and to see them get so excited about learning -- their hands shake, and they cheer every time they get to choose a book for me to read to them! I get to hear students tell me ‘thank you’ every time I give them anything, even if it is just their mat to sit on the floor. I get to know that, right now, I am doing exactly what God purposed for me.”
Young alumni from the Pamplin College of Business have taken the business skills they learned at Virginia Tech to jobs in nonprofits and work to improve life around the world.