Back from Gulu!


Dear friends,

On 7th October, I sat perched on the edge of a rickety chair in a dimly lit poolhall in Gulu, Uganda watching the national football team play Ghana for a chance to qualify for the World Cup. For us Americans, it may seem like just another soccer match – for the 50 or so Ugandans crowded in front of a television screen, it was a matter of pride and purpose. Unfortunately, the game finished a tie – nil/nil – a major disappointment that would sideline the Ugandans from their day in the world spotlight.

Just down the road, however, a multitude of events were taking place – events which bode extraordinarily well for Uganda. Some 25 Village Savings & Loan Associations (VSLAs) were busy collecting loan repayments, adding to emergency funds, and distributing loans to group members in need of augmenting their small businesses or paying school fees. Collectively known as “Women’s Groups,” these self-governed, community microfinance corporations – now with 20% male participation – have become “the talk of the town.”

Not only do these VSLAs provide economic support and financial incentives to over 1,000 THRIVERS, they promote social cohesion, group pride and a sense of hope in the future. Group members learn skills to bolster their small business success; they receive psycho-education around common mental health concerns like depression and suicide; and they learn basic literacy in both their native Acholi and English. The model by which THRIVE Gulu operates is nothing short of transformative: community members are for the first time talking openly with one another about their traumatic memories of war; men are learning safe alternatives to release their frustrations instead of resorting to alcohol abuse and domestic violence; parents are recognizing the importance of education not only for themselves but for their children!

As the new President & Executive Director of THRIVE Gulu, last month marked my first trip to Uganda. I couldn’t have been more excited about all that I saw! Our 13 staff are all competent in their respective disciplines – they are honest, responsible and good stewards of their resources, and they conduct themselves with the highest integrity. They are on the path to making THRIVE a leader in psycho-social support services in post-conflict settings locally, regionally and beyond! Meetings with partner organizations, such as Save the Children International confirmed that THRIVE’s technical competence sets us apart from other non-profit organizations. It was equally exciting for me to witness the joy embodied by the beneficiaries of THRIVE as it was to observe the dedication with which our staff approaches their respective vocations.

I was impressed with our Empowerment Team’s ability to help young women rise out of poverty; I was impressed with our Counseling Team’s ability to offer life-saving interventions and heal the invisible wounds of trauma; and I was impressed with our Finance Team’s command of bookkeeping in two currencies. But I was also inspired – inspired by the women who, one after another, stood before her peers and announced with the confidence of one who speaks with authority, “I no longer have to use a thumbprint, because now I can sign my name!” It is fitting that one woman, Ms. Akot Rose, marched to the chalkboard and made manifest her name. Sporting a Ugandan football jersey, #15, it is also fitting that Ms. Akot embodied all that is possible when a hero rises forth with the backing of a perfect team. Her victory is ours, for “Together We THRIVE”!!!

Thrive on,

Mick Hirsch
President & Executive Director