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(As told by Caitlin Guess, Founder and Executive Director of Thrive Global)

I dreamt of the developing world since I was a little girl and started falling in love with Africa long before I realized that was what was happening.  I was the weird white kid who wanted an African baby doll and thought my family should celebrate Kwanzaa.  I told all my friends at school that I was going to move to a different country one day and help orphans there.  People might have thought I was strange or delusional or joking around…but I was serious.  I didn’t step foot onto African soil until I was twenty-two, but when I finally did, that continent grabbed my heart more intensely than I’d ever imagined possible.

I began my time in Africa in a small Ugandan orphanage.  At the time, I had no idea that two of the local staff, Robert and Janepher Okwakol, would one day become partners in pursuing some of my wildest dreams.  Spending a year in an orphanage taught us all a lot about what NOT to do.  Separating children from their families (many of whom weren’t even actually orphans) was not the way to help an impoverished nation.  Though unsure of the solution, I knew this was not the answer.

When I returned to America in 2007, I sensed that my time in Uganda was not finished.  Yet, it was not until 2013 that I moved back and really started pursuing that answer.

I reunited with Robert and Janepher, who had since started their own NGO (called Mercy Seat Fellowship) and were passionately searching out ways to help the most vulnerable people in their community.  I realized that the only way to see change in Uganda was to empower indigenous leaders like Robert and Janepher – people who were unafraid to take risks, dream big, and be visionaries for their nation.  I immediately fell in love with their vision and worked alongside them for many months, eventually moving out to a remote village and living in a mud hut to be able to be more involved with the local community.

The craziest part is that people from all around the world wanted to join me!  Without trying to convince anyone, I ended up with volunteers from America, Australia, and Germany.  My hut became a strangely popular place to live.

Over time, so many people wanted to give toward our cause and get involved with supporting local leaders like the Okwakols that I realized I needed to start a formal organization to keep up!  Eventually, I returned to the States and started rallying the support and resources we needed to fuel this growing organization.  My heart began to dream about truly transforming Uganda, and I knew Robert and Janepher were the first two treasures I’d been given to help fan this dream to flame.

Instead of removing kids from their homes or trying to be Western saviors, Thrive Global is all about empowering locals.  We look for people who can dream and who can lead, and we support them in any of the six main sectors that we believe are essentials for community transformation.

I love that Thrive Global grew organically out of years of a relationship between one wide-eyed American girl living in Uganda and one ambitious local couple.  I love that our friendship expanded to friendships among a handful of Westerners and several Ugandans, then eventually several Westerners, then a good portion of a village, then multiple villages, and so on… 

Every project we work on has been birthed out of relationship.  Our biggest accomplishments have come from simply learning the needs of friends and sharing resources with one another.  The best part is that the sharing goes BOTH ways.  The Ugandans and the international community both have gifts, talents, ideas, resources, and friendships to share with each other.  I feel like I could never repay my Ugandan friends for all they’ve taught me and shared with me.

At Thrive Global, we hold relationship very highly and find extreme value in activities that promote community and friendship-building.  We do not believe in the traditional model of Westerners being the givers and Africans being the receivers.  This is disempowering and degrading.  We believe that we are in this growing process together!

We’re still learning, trying new things, facing successes and failures, and celebrating whatever comes our way as long as we learn from it.  We are on the search for passionate people to dream with us and ignite the six sectors of transformation in the communities where we serve.  Thanks for reading and for dreaming with us.

Eyalama noi!  (Thank you very much!)

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