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Joanita Senoga headshot

Joanita Bbaale Senoga overcame great adversity in her homeland of Uganda — surviving the tyrannical genocide of the Edi Amin regime, achieving a college education, and finding ways to educate children whose families had no way of affording their schooling.

This week, Senoga will spend time with Marietta College students discussing her journey to create the Circle of Peace school system in Uganda, which has served thousands of children by providing free education, and the non-profit organization — Circle of Peace International — that supports the school.

“We are very excited to have Joanita as our Schwartz Leader-in-Residence,” said Dr. Linda Lockhart, Associate Professor of Communication and Director of the Pio 101 First Year Program. “She will be speaking with Leadership students, as well as with students in Entrepreneurship and other majors. Her experiences really touch on all areas. She will be on campus January 18 and 19.”

A special Meet-and-Greet is planned for noon, Thursday, January 18, in the Worthington Center in Legacy Library. Students, staff and faculty are invited to bring their lunches to meet with Senoga during her one-hour break.

The Schwartz Leader-in-Residence, which is facilitated through the McDonough Leadership Program, features bringing an outstanding leader to campus to enhance the leadership knowledge and skills to participating students and employees. The program is named after the late Dr. Stephen W. Schwartz, the longtime Dean of McDonough.

Senoga began her professional career as a teacher in Uganda but found it heartbreaking when students who could not afford to continue their education were being kicked out of school because primary education is not free in that country. She decided to start her own school because she wanted to give children access to all seven grades of primary education.

“Starting out as a teacher, she had to hide students who couldn’t afford to pay, so she eventually decided to start her own school,” said MJ Ebenhack, who became involved in Senoga’s Circle of Hope in 2009. At that time, Ebenhack and her husband, Marietta College Professor Ben Ebenhack ’76, spearheaded Ben’s non-profit, AHEAD Energy, which helped developing countries with their energy resources by focusing on their medical and education conditions. “They were cooking for a school of 250 or more on an open fire in basically what was a tent. I could not stay in the area where they were cooking for more than five minutes, and there were women spending seven to eight hours a day in those conditions.”

MJ called her husband and said that was the first thing AHEAD Energy needed to help solve. AHEAD Energy supported a project that added a ventilation system to wood cookstoves, which greatly improved the air quality of the cooking areas. The Ebenhacks continued their support of the Circle of Hope school and foundation after parting ways with their own foundation.

“Joanita’s commitment to the children and her school is almost overwhelming,” Ben Ebenhack said.

MJ said Senoga’s life and journey in education are equally inspiring. While still a student in Uganda, she and her classmates had to hide for weeks in a cave from Edi Amin’s regime. She later became a teacher, started her school and foundation, and eventually moved to the U.S. while still continuing her work with the foundation.

Marietta resident and alumna Constance Brady ’65 and her family have supported Circle of Hope and Senoga's work for many years.

My family and I were very compelled by (Joanita’s) story and for the school,” Brady said. “My grandchildren sponsor kids in Uganda to help with their education. And Joanita is so gracious about the support her school received. She writes the loveliest letters and is so appreciative to MJ, Ben and my family. The children write letters to my grandchildren, and one of my youngest grandsons corresponds with his friend all the time.”

Lockhart says she would love to have Senoga return to Marietta later in the semester to possibly give a presentation through the Office of Diversity & Inclusion.

“If we could make it happen, that would be open to the entire community,” Lockhart said.