At age 16, All We Are founder Nathan Thomas started taking change in his own words. Collecting used computers from friends, family and his local community, he started sending them to villages in need of technology, laying the groundwork for All We Are’s continued focus on educational access. Eight years later, he has built a team that is creating sustainable Projects that are locally supported in Uganda and built to last. He had a chat with This Is Uganda team and we bring you the interview.
Let’s start with the name- “All We Are”, Why did you choose that?
I was lucky to, at a very young age, discover that the best version of yourself is the person you truly are. For many of us this journey of fulfillment is one that spans a lifetime. All We Are is the hope that by living a fulfilled life we can take our talents, passions, and all that we are to help others realize their true potential. We believe that “it starts with us.”
What inspired you to start All We Are?
The belief that if you get to a certain point of your life and decide that now is the time to start giving back, you took too much. I was a 16 year high school student living in Findlay, Ohio USA who wanted to do something to change the world. I luckily found several people who believed in me. Eight year later, I lead a platform of over twenty young professionals in America who volunteer their time to our mission, and an incredible team of employees on the ground in Uganda who implement our work.
Let’s now talk about your work. What are your focus areas?
By the end of 2017 we will have equipped 20 schools in Uganda with electricity through the design and installation of solar power. We are scaling a women’s empowerment project to educate and provide female personal hygiene products that allows girls to remain in school. This year we have also launched a pilot water program to provide access to clean water to these partner schools.
As young change makers, All We Are’s focus is on responsibly building infrastructure for schools in Uganda. We focus on sustainability and putting money into the local economy with an emphasis on stewardship. Every member of our USA team is a volunteer and is personally investing in All We Are’s mission, which enables us to put 100% of public donations to use on the ground in Uganda. We believe that development is only successful when it is fueled locally by the communities. We work with the Rotary Club of Nateete-Kampala to conduct needs assessments for our projects. They are the face of our projects on the ground.
And the communities, where do you work in Uganda?
We have worked in Kampala and the surrounding area in the past eight years. This year we are pushing into more rural areas where there is no access to Umeme and the existing schools’ infrastructure is much weaker. We will be working in Rakai, Luuka, and Kakumiro to name a few Districts, and hope for further expansion in the near future.
At the end of the day, what are you trying to achieve?
A world in which we all have the right to dream. A world where every child receives an education because it is the young people who are the future of our countries.
What has been All We Are’s impact in Uganda so far?
We have spent the last eight years in Uganda helping build educational program in and around the Kampala area with the hope that we are having a positive impact on the schools we partner with. We have also been able to positively impact the lives of many members of the All We Are family on the ground in Kampala through job creation and by providing them with a means to support their families.
In a week we are launching our largest solar project to date. This project will bring electricity to nine rural schools in Uganda.
Any particular impact story you can single out?
One of my favorite stories is a spotlight we did on Nambuli Rogers, Headmaster of Mackay Memorial Primary School in Kampala. We electrified this school in 2016 and also partner with them on our women’s empowerment project. The school’s motto is, “Temudda Nnyuma” and we believe that perfectly describes the work we trying to accomplish.
With development work comes a lot of uncertainty and questioning whether the solutions we are providing are impactful. In February 2017 we were in Kampala and visited Mackay Memorial. I will never forget getting out of the bus and walking up to the HM’s office to be greeted by a big hug from HM Rogers. It is in moments like this that we remember why we do what we do. (Read the full story here)
Where do you see All We Are 5-7 years from now?
In 2015 we set an ambitious goal of electrifying 50 schools in Uganda by 2025. At the end of 2017, just two years later, we will already have 20 schools in the All We Are family. In five to seven years it is very possible that we will have realized our planned goal of 50 partner schools. As we scale our work, we will expand our women’s empowerment program and clean water initiative. We are committed to a problem not a solution. The problems we address surround education. As we progress as an organization, and as new technologies and opportunities become a reality, we will continue to innovate and refuse to stop challenging ourselves.
Let’s talk about personal inspiration. Which people inspire you in everything you do?
It is easy to draw inspiration from people who live fearlessly. I draw inspiration from those who fear less. From my parents who moved from the comfort of friends, family, and what was normal in India to America before my brother, sister, and I were born. To members of the All We Are team who are so passionate, and so willing, to go far beyond what society deems “millennial engagement” to be.
If someone wants to get involved in All We Are, how do they get in touch with you?
We are always looking to engage with like-minded individuals who want to be a part of the global conversation on change. Take a look at our website at www.allweare.org and our social media platforms. If what we are doing interests you, send me an email at email@example.com. Remember that the best way to start is by simply getting started.
Any last words or piece of advice to someone doing a similar initiative like you?
Share stories of success with your networks and ensure that you do so with cultural sensitivity. At All We Are we gravitate towards empowerment versus charity. You will not find images that exploit the dignity of the communities we serve, or “voluntourism” opportunities. Instead you will find a group of young people dedicated to positive change that is tangible. The key to achieving this is patience. Take the time to develop a solid foundation for your work.
These Children with Disabilities May Have Dark Pasts But One Organization Is Ensuring They Have a Bright Future
When Kristina Riffle- Semukete moved to Uganda in 2015 to start her teaching job, she discovered that there are over 5 million children enrolled in public elementary schools in Uganda, but children with disabilities are not included.
“Three short months into living in Uganda, I was heartbroken by the lack of special education programs for children with disabilities and decided to look for local partners to do something.” Kristina explains.
She then partnered with Moses Semukete to found Obwaagazi Children’s Foundation, an organization for children with disabilities in the local communities based in Jinja, Eastern Uganda.
“Children with disabilities are often seen as a curse to families and communities. These children typically lack parental love, are seen as having no future, and grow up as outcasts in the community and they do not have the same opportunities as typically developing children.” Kristina explains.
Kristina passionately says and believes that children and people with disabilities deserve to have the same opportunities as typically developing people. They should have access to education, food, and medical care.
Obwaagazi Children’s Foundation therefore provides special education, behavioral therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy to children with disabilities in Uganda.
“We partner with students, families, and community to create programs for individual educational strengths and needs to facilitate growth for our students. Education programming may include academic growth, social and emotional growth, and/or communication development.” She says.
The foundation gives emotional support and counseling to families of children with disabilities by providing respite care, parent education, community education, and encouragement, so that the families can remain in their communities successfully.
As a sustainability plan, Obwagaazi works with families to discover their hidden skills, such as: farming, jewelry making, basket weaving, paper beads, weaving mats, and art to which products are sold On Etsy
“We support the families by selling their crafts and providing them with 100% profit for their work, so they can care for their child with a disability.” Kristina says.
Todate, the foundation is home to 35 children with disabilities together with their families. They are being supported through provision of respite care, parent education, community education, and encouragement to be stronger in their respective communities where they come from.
“Our students resilience, perseverance, and passion inspires us to be better people and to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the world around us.” She concludes.
How Not For Sale Uganda is Fighting Human Trafficking
Human trafficking, a criminal activity that is often described as modern day slavery, has become a world-wide industry, incorporating millions of people annually, and generating an illegal annual turnover of billions of dollars.
According to the Uganda 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report presented by the US Department of State, Uganda is a source, transit, and destination country for women, children and men subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced labor, child labor and sexual exploitation.
On record, there are about 837 reported cases of human trafficking according to the National Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Office under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Raymond Kagumire and his team are trying to fight this status quo through Not For Sale Uganda, an organization that has set out to build a strong network of advocates to fight against modern day slavery.
“My story begins when we were having dinner about 4 years ago at home and mentioned to my sister that one day I would love to market a beer. She later introduced me to a Swedish technology executive, Ulf Stenerhag who had a desire to expand his beer brand “Not For Sale Ale” that donates 100% of the profit to Not For Sale organization to fight human trafficking.” Raymond states.
In July 2014, the team kicked off after the Founders of the Global Not For Sale Campaign based in USA David Batstone and Mark Wexler chose the name “Not for Sale Uganda” to start fighting modern day slavery most notably, Ugandans being trafficked to the Middle East.
“At Not For Sale, we understand that root causes of human trafficking or commonly termed as human trafficking is poverty and we build scalable, design driven social business solutions that can help us to inoculate communities susceptible to human trafficking as well human trafficking survivors.” Raymond says.
Not for Sale combines the best elements of social programming and business in its proven, 3-step process. The first step is social intervention where it partners with local experts, community leaders, and business people to understand the root causes of slavery in the region.
The group then provides food, shelter, education, and healthcare to people affected by modern slavery. This supports it when it goes to research and development to investigate the local economy asking key questions like, “why are people here susceptible to slavery? What could we do to create economy for them?”
“Our third step is to partner with entrepreneurs who have a vision to build an economic engine for the project. These businesses feed revenue back into the project, so that we can give them jobs, stable income, and fund more social intervention.” He explains.
To date, Not for Sale has built a team of dedicated ambassadors/volunteers working to eradicate school going children/students and communities. Given varying objectives and differing understandings of how to conduct more effective outreach, the group targets different populations in its anti-trafficking efforts.
“We have also been able to provide informative community based lessons about the crime of human trafficking and the advice available to the survivors of the crime and remain focused to task various organizations to fight this crime. It is not simply about finding and advising the survivors, it is about creating a self sustaining economy and a society which is more alert to the crime.” Raymond states.
Building a dedicated team of ambassadors committed to do good in their respective communities remains remarkable to Raymond, something he prides in.
Currently, Not for Sale conducts a school/community out reach program “The Not For Sale Campaign” to raise awareness against human trafficking in schools and communities.
“In January 2018, together with our mother organization, Not For Sale in partnership with Coburwas International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA) will launch a million dollar project to help refugee children to access quality education and amplify their entrepreneurial skills through seed funding opportunities for innovative solutions in Kyangwali refugee settlement on Uganda/Congo border.” Raymond says.
Seven (7) years from now, Raymond and his team wants to be able to answer the question; “What are the reasons that contribute to people being trafficked and communities being at risk of human trafficking in our country?”
“That’s the question that fuels the vision of Not For Sale Uganda and is the key factor in our next 7 years because while we provide answers, we understand that the lifestyle of the people in the 21st century is ever on a change and new methods will be designed by the traffickers.” Raymond explains.
It’s in this essence that to achieve their vision, Not For Sale has a dynamic road map and will remain committed grow self sustaining social projects with purpose-driven business to end exploitation and forced labor.
“I would say, energizing would even makes stronger and find innovative solutions in our anti-trafficking efforts.” Raymond concludes.
We all agree that modern day slavery is on the rise and all efforts can’t keep but Not For Sale understands and has proven scalable, innovative business concepts and desire to do good to change the world and we can inspire others to create a world where no one is for sale.
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