Setting up Born to Thrive was never really a choice, it was the natural result of a commitment I made to an incredible group of children in Rwanda. At the time that I went to work in the ‘little Switzerland’ of Africa it was not quite yet the tourist destination it is becoming. But having studied the 1994 genocide in-depth at university, the stories of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope that were coming out of the country were mind-blowing. Wanting to in some small way contribute to this national healing process I went to work with Prison Fellowship Rwanda – the leading Rwandan NGO that has helped the government to re-integrate released genocide perpetrators back into their communities, living alongside survivors in peace.
Working in this kind of environment took its toll emotionally and it was, in all honesty, the presence of these wonderful kids three times a week that allowed me focus on the long-term goal at hand – creating a peaceful and prosperous environment for these children to grow up in. It also allowed me to let off steam with them chatting, reading, playing games, or, if I was really busy, just getting a hug of Fabrice – a 6 year old boy nicknamed ‘baby’ by the other children, who I now sponsor. Young, a little homesick and with the rather painful of experience of having a wisdom tooth without anesthetic, I am not sure I would have made it to the end of my contract without them.
In the end it was with a heavy heart that I left Rwanda, not knowing when I would be back. Having experienced first-hand the optimism, generosity and intelligence of these children, and knowing that regardless of how much I wanted to I couldn’t take them home with me, I promised to do whatever I could to ensure they got everything they needed. Luckily this task was made far easier with the support that Prison Fellowship was and still is providing – a stable environment, love and affection, counselling, and hot, filling meals. This meant that when I set up Born to Thrive in the UK we could focus on what was missing – education.
School might be ‘free’ in Rwanda but there are so many hidden costs that we take for granted – uniforms, textbooks, backpacks, transport, even shoes. Our kids and what is left of their families simply cannot afford these costs and it is because of this that they cannot attend school. Put simply, Born to Thrive was set up to cover these costs, and when needed provide the basics of food, healthcare and counselling. We treat the children as if they are our own. We have an open and trusting relationship with our implementing partner the Association for the Assistance of Children (a wing of Prison Fellowship Rwanda now solely dedicated to the children). And we have an incredible team on the ground taking care of the kids, assessing their needs, and reporting to us regularly. 100% of our donations go directly to the children.
Although Born to Thrive is growing our core mission and values have not and will not be changed. Visiting the children this October with a group from Havas Lynx and two fellow trustees (a close friend and my partner) really opened my eyes to how far we have come as a charity. From personally sponsoring one child, we are now sponsoring 40. And not just in the short-term, we ensure the money we raised is used sustainably so that once a child starts school we will see them through to the end.
The trip also allowed me to share an experience that, as I had suspected, is life-changing in one way or another for everyone. The violence that the Rwandan people lived and died through in 1994 is incomprehensible, but so too is the bravery and ability they have demonstrated in rebuilding their nation. Our children will grow up in a different world to the one that tore their families apart. And it is this that motivates me to ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to provide for their own families in the future.