When three University of California, Santa Barbara students went to Uganda to help in an orphanage, they didn’t know the trip would forever change their lives—and the lives of hundreds of other women and children.
“We fell in love with the kids, and we fell in love with the people,” recalls Natalie Lemonnier, who traveled to Uganda for the first time with a Bible study group, including friends Nikki Foster and Alea Boult. During the “life-changing” trip, the trio met Sam Mugoya and Cathie Amede, founders of a nongovernmental organization called WOCAP: Widows and Orphans Community Action Plan.
Working with some 225 Ugandan women and their children, WOCAP helps to alleviate poverty through targeted programs like the Beads Project, where women learn to make jewelry with beads made from recycled, dyed paper. The jewelry is one way the women can generate income to help support their families.
Inspired by the women they met in the WOCAP program, Lemonnier and her friends were moved to help in some way.
“Their joy is contagious,” says Lemonnier, who is originally from Agoura Hills.“We were also so struck by their hope, which is so much bigger than their challenges.” Upon learning the market for jewelry was saturated in Uganda, Lemonnier decided to purchase some jewelry to sell in the U.S.
“We really wanted to share their stories with the people living here and we want people to know that we can impact the world, and it’s as simple as buying a necklace,” says Allison Butin, fellow UCSB student and cofounder of BOH.
Quick sales of the Ugandan jewelry in the U.S. spurred Lemonnier, Foster and Butin to explore how they could further support the women. Upon graduation, they decided to partner with WOCAP and launch a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization named Because of Hope (BOH), in honor of the Ugandan women’s strong faith and hope.
“While they may physically experience poverty, spiritually they are so rich,” says Lemonnier. “These women have to rely upon God for things like where to get their next meal to feed their kids. God really is their source of hope, and this gives them joy and hope and confidence when they have none of it from their circumstances.”
With the mission of “sustainably empowering widows and orphans in Uganda,” Because of Hope aims to create compassionate global awareness in our local communities and “to unite people from different continents and cultures with the purpose of generating lasting solutions to the problems that arise from poverty.”
Partnering with WOCAP in its mission has enabled BOH to build on and expand existing programs that are already working and to actually talk with the women to learn about their specific needs and resources.
“We’re committed to the women and sustainable empowerment,” says Lemonnier. “So we aim to develop programs with the women, not for them,” she adds.
In addition to the Beads Project, BOH has helped to establish a scholarship program that enables children to attend quality schools nearby, as well as an agriculture program.
“The past four years have seen significant improvement,” says Lemonnier. “We have been very, very blessed with the success of the program.” With a long-term commitment and a focus on targeting all aspects of poverty, BOH hopes to offer these women “a ladder out of poverty” and envisions being a “catalyst for change.”
Through its student scholarship program, BOH aims to empower elementary through university-age students through education.
“Education is a crucial component in creating opportunities for the future and breaking out of the cycle of poverty,” notes Lemonnier.
The agriculture program implemented with BOH’s assistance and support also addresses both immediate and long-term needs by providing sustenance and income.
“The women had their first harvest from this program in August,” says Lemonnier, who says the women’s harvest yielded 10 times more crops by using the agricultural methods taught in the program.
Because of Hope continues its work, powered by a small staff of eight full-time employees and a handful of interns. Based in Santa Barbara, the organization plans to develop additional programs that offer empowering opportunities to women and children in need.
By incorporating existing programs, such as microfinance, animal husbandry and small business start ups, BOH provides these women with empowering opportunities to support themselves and their families.
“We’re hoping to replicate the program in other areas after this group of women are self-sustaining,” says the 26-year-old business and economics graduate.
And while the women and children in Uganda are incredibly thankful for the help and support of organizations like Because of Hope, Lemonnier says the rewards are mutual.
“We’re probably more blessed to work with these women than they are by us. They’ve definitely changed our lives.”