Student Success Story: Vanessa Karuhije


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Leadership Spotlight: Vanessa Karuhije

For this month’s leadership spotlight, we want to recognize Vanessa Karuhije. She is 17 and a senior at Bourgade Catholic High School. Vanessa has stood out in the program for so many reasons. She is caring, punctual, organized, and hardworking. Her bright personality is infectious. Anyone who knows her well, knows that she loves to have fun, dance, sing, cook, and clean. She was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, moved to a refugee camp in Uganda for six years as a young girl, speaks three languages, and is the oldest of a large family with 12 siblings! Through her parent’s sacrifice, she and her family were able to leave the Ugandan refugee camp and travel to the U.S. for a better life in 2018.

With 12 younger siblings, Vanessa was expected to pave the way and set a good example. She has done this and has truly become an example of someone who proves that success is not an accident. Because of her hard work in school, she was accepted into a prestigious program (Boys Hope Girls Hope) where she attends a rigorous private college preparatory high school, Bourgade Catholic High School. Although she worked hard and excelled academically, there were other parts of her life that she wanted to continue to develop.

When Vanessa was accepted in the Valley Guardians Executive Leadership Success Coaching Program (VG) in 2020, the biggest issues she faced were:

  • She was confused and worried about finding success in life.
  • She struggled with opening up to others and asking for help.
  • She often felt uncomfortable in social settings.
  • Because of her language barrier and accent, it was hard for her to communicate and meet new people.

Throughout her first year in the program, she attended leadership training and met with her success coach, Yutian Chen, on weekly basis. Together, they discussed Vanessa’s life and set goals to help her sort out ideas in her mind, solve problems she was facing, and figure out who she is and what she wants to do with her life. The program helped her gain a clearer picture of what she is capable of. Since starting the program, she has made incredible progress:

  • She feels less confused and worried about her life and problems.
  • She learned how to ask for help and solve problems faster.
  • She learned how to analyze her life and find ways to continuously improve herself.
  • She challenged herself to be more social and learn about other people.
  • She felt more comfortable communicating with others.

Against tremendous odds, Vanessa succeeded because she was humble and teachable. She has positioned her to receive the support she needs to be a great example to her younger siblings. Vanessa shared with us how much she has appreciated the program and what she learned:

You can never know what you are capable of doing if you don’t step out from your comfort zone. You can never know what is out there for you if you keep yourself imprisoned. As a student of the VG program, I have learned life lessons, and I got to know more about my personality, including things that I didn’t know about myself: like what I am really good at, also which things I need to improve on to be the change I would like to see in this world. In addition to that, this was a hard year that I didn’t expect to meet new people, and have an experience outside of the house, but with VG, many good and wonderful things have happened. With VG I got to be around other people and do some fun activities outside of home and school. Furthermore, most of the times we tend to think that we are really doing well off by ourselves which is not true; because we can’t do it all alone in this world.”  – Vanessa Karuhije

Vanessa has entered the second year of the Valley Guardians Executive Leadership Program. It is exciting to see her growth as she finishes her senior year and enters college and the next chapter of her life.

About the Author

Dr. Yutian Chen is head researcher and Chinese translator at the Performance Based Studies Research Group. She has been an active coach in LSA for over 5 years.