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Kokhobalem Haile MSW'22

I have a degree in social work and a minor in business administration. I chose social work because acts of service have always been a passion of mine. Coming from an East African community, it’s essential to do what you can to help another.

I took a course at St. Kate’s when I was in high school and I fell in love with the school’s mission of social justice. That’s something many students shared—learning how to incorporate social justice into our individual lives.

I am a Page Scholar from the Page foundation, which is a scholarship program awarded to students of color who graduate from a Minnesota high school and attend a Minnesota post-secondary institution. You get financial support to pay for college while serving communities that look a lot like yourself. It’s really being able to be that representative, that role model for children, saying you, too, can achieve and go to college. The staff and faculty allowed me to ask billions of questions about my career paths, and about managing and balancing things.

In my senior year, I had the opportunity to take part in the Assistantship Mentoring Program and be a college teaching assistant. One of my professors said I would be a great fit. I thought, ‘me?’ I took on this role just as social distancing was starting. It was online, but the process was very creative, and I learned a lot about myself. At the same time, I was volunteering, interning at an agency, and being a children’s literacy mentor. Despite the social distancing, I did thrive. Because of these opportunities, I have developed lifelong connections with the agencies I’ve served.

Once I was able to apply what I've been learning, it brought to light what exactly they were teaching us in our social work program. St. Kate’s gave me the skills to build that confidence, awareness, and education, and to incorporate that into my work. It brought together academics with personal passion.

Comfort Dondo '07,MSW'15

I was born and raised in Zimbabwe. When I was 16, I must have applied to over 100 colleges. I was using the American Embassy space where they help students from less privileged areas. I remember vividly the first image I saw from St. Kate’s. It was of the pond—with the words ‘to teach women to lead and influence’. I yearned for that. I knew going to school with other women would be powerful. That was my starting point. At 17, I moved to Minnesota and started at St. Kate’s.

I graduated in 2007 with a nutritional sciences degree. Then life hit me hard.

When I moved from Zimbabwe, I was running from pain. I was a survivor of childhood sexual assault and my father was violent. I actually wrote a letter to myself, saying I don't want to be in this community, I want to go away and get a good education. That was my dream which I have done and am so proud of. But I had an invisible knapsack on my back: trauma. I went into the wrong relationships and married a man who was abusive like my dad. Everything came to pass in that linear way because I had unhealed trauma. When I met with social workers, I felt inspired. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to serve back. So I returned to St. Kate’s, graduating in 2015 with a social work degree.

Now every morning I do God's work and it doesn't feel like work. I get to talk to my clients like they're my sisters. I minimize pain in ways nobody could do for me. I’m a founder of a nonprofit organization called Phumulani Minnesota, African Women Against Violence. Phumulani is a Zulu word meaning level of peace. We work to end all forms of gender-based violence using a culturally specific lens. It’s holistic in that we have coaches who can address depression, chemical abuse, different root causes. We offer career and leadership development. Everything is to prevent a woman from going back to her abuser.

Recently I was granted a 2022 Bush Fellowship, so now I can complete my doctoral studies. My dream is to be a renowned researcher for the prevention of childhood trauma.