Hope is the anchor to the soul."
Wendy Cloherty: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
Lavendah Namyalo: I talk to God.
WC: What is your favorite book of all time?
LN: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
WC: What are 3 words you live by?
LN: Love, light, and courage.
WC: Who is your hero?
LN: My Aunt Toto. She’s the cool aunt! An amazing woman, great sense of humor, great work ethic. I adore her.
WC: What are 3 things you can’t live without?
LN: My relationship with God, family, and my friends.
WC: What is your favorite movie?
LN: It’s a tie between The Notebook and Deadpool.
WC: What is your biggest fear?
LN: I’m claustrophobic, so tight spaces freak me out.
There’s something inside you and I that keeps hope alive, erupts into sunlight and stands watch in the night."
WC: When did you first start believing that “the world belongs to the brave”?
LN: I was 24. I was really into music back then and had been writing songs from the time I was 16 but had never really done anything with them. To this day, performing is the most intimidating thing, but I had all those songs… So, my friends and I organized for a concert. Wild right? I had no fans, no vocal training, no exposure, nothing! The tickets sold out! I was a bundle of nerves but I did it! It was at that moment that I realized this world is yours if you are brave enough to reach out and grab it.
WC: Do you still write songs and sing?
LN: I have my days. I’ve been writing music since I was 16 and I still love it — so every now and again, I write. A couple of times a week, I grab my guitar and play for myself. It’s quite relaxing and it can get literally anything off my mind.
WC: Why did you join Love Does?
LN: At the time I had read Love Does and Everybody Always by Bob Goff and I was quite happy to find out that Love Does, the organization, was active in Uganda. I’d been wanting to work with an organization that had its hand in education for a while. My experience is primarily in child protection, sexual gender based violence, community service provision, and conflict management, and Love Does provided the perfect opportunity for me to share this with our wonderful children and staff.
WC: Can you tell us a little bit about what a Country Director does? What does a typical day look like (if that’s even a thing)?
LN: My day starts at 5:30 a.m. I’m talking to God as I head to the gym. My first meeting starts at 9 a.m. and goes until about 1 p.m. (It’s typical for meetings in Uganda to run all day so it’s great when they’re only a couple of hours long.) Then it’s time for a break. At this point, I’ll step in for another meeting that will run until about 4:30 p.m. Then it’s time to head home. I’m the guardian of a wonderful dog — her name is Leilah. She's getting older and prefers cuddles and naps. Then it’s time for a walk, phone calls to family and friends, a hot shower, Netflix, and bedtime is about 10 p.m. — then repeat.
WC: What has been the biggest surprise or most unexpected aspect of your current role?
LN: Falling in love with the team. The Love Does team is the most professional group of people I have had the privilege of working with. The team in Uganda is so wonderfully diverse, bold, and energetic, they definitely have my full respect for continuously stepping up to the plate and giving it everything they've got.
WC: What drives you every day?
LN: I’m a Christian so love is my drive. How can it be that a God so wild and free can love a girl like me? Salvation has become the fire that charges me to love people. I think it will always go back to that — loving people. To love them as he loves me.
WC: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
LN: Restoring hope. Hope is the anchor to the soul. Gulu, in Northern Uganda, was plagued by armed conflict for 20 years. Now, I get to see some of our children graduate high school and get into college, graduate, become doctors, teachers, engineers. Being part of their process is the best part.
WC: What is one thing you’d like people who aren’t familiar with Uganda to know about the country and its people?
LN: Uganda is one of the friendliest countries in the world. There’s such a wonderful spirit of community almost anywhere you go that it’s okay to talk to strangers — they’ll talk back and not sarcastically. They’ll try to help, indulge you, crack a joke, give you a reason to smile again. We’re happy people.
WC: What are some of the daily ways you continue to work toward large-scale change?
LN: I take on small bits, one moment at a time. I ordinarily aim at completing three or four tasks a day and in this way, I work towards making small improvements to my work, health, and relationships every day.
WC: How do you stay motivated when you think about how much work still needs to be done in Uganda?
LN: I hold on to hope. I meditate on the bigger picture — on everything Uganda will be. She will get better so I dream of better. A better education system, better health care, better infrastructure, less people living below the poverty line, happy parents, stable families, and better mental health care.
WC: Can you think of a specific moment or situation in which you knew all the work you were doing was worth it?
LN: Yes, it was mid-last year during a food distribution to the vulnerable community members. An elderly woman whose son suffers from mental illness bowed her head after I handed her a bag of food and prayed for me and the team. It took me a few seconds to realize what she was doing and it took my breath away.
WC: What other types of projects do you work on regularly?
LN: When the lockdown hit last year, we had to get very creative — it was a new problem that required new solutions. We worked with district officials to come up with these creative ways to help the community of Gulu. We gave disinfectants to different hospitals and public areas like the local markets. We prepared notes for kids in different parts of Gulu, not just the ones that attend our campuses. Ours is primarily education, a school program that runs from nursery to secondary school. Through our donors, we are able to support some of our students to attend college at some of the best universities across the country. We also run a prison education program and a mechanics training course for female inmates. Love Does also has safe houses for girls in the Capital.
WC: What does true leadership mean to you?
LN: True leadership is service (servant leadership) which means treating those you lead with respect, grace, and honor, working with humility. You must see the man or woman next to you as an equal regardless of their position in the organization. They are just like me, so hurtful words will hurt them, empty promises break their trust, embarrassing them will make them lose their confidence. I know how I’d like to be treated and I try my best to replicate that as I lead others.
WC: How do you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
LN: I read, I listen, I act. I like a good book every now and again, and I prefer titles that can add some form of value to my life. I’m currently reading Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The title says it all! I listen, though I am still learning this one. I’ve always been quick to speak. I do take a lot of pride in how far I’ve come, just being able to appreciate someone else’s story is such a big deal. I act; I’m a woman of action. I enjoy making things happen. Coming up with new ideas and seeing them through really excites me.
WC: What are 3 books or resources you recommend others to read on leadership?
LN: The Smart Money Woman — An African girl’s journey to financial freedom by Arese Ugwu. An excellent book on relevant financial principles for today’s men and women. Such a relatable book. Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People by Bob Goff- This will introduce you to the world of loving people. You do not understand. I love this book. Dare to Lead by Brene Brown — A book on the function of vulnerability and courage at home or at work.
WC: What does it take to succeed as a strong female leader in the workplace?
LN: It takes hard work. There’s just no substitute for hard work. Never despise humble beginnings. It really helps to start from the bottom because you’ll understand every aspect of the structure. It takes discipline. Success requires a specific level of consistency. 21 days to develop a new habit, 10,000 hours to master a skill, and so on. You have to really go for it and maintain that effort until this new level becomes your normal. It takes vulnerability. Good leadership requires vulnerability, admitting when you are wrong, apologizing for mistakes, and acknowledging that you need the support of the team.
WC: Do you remember the first time you used your voice to advocate for the vulnerable?
LN: I was 21 or 22 and I was volunteering with a local orphanage and loved it there! I’d take a taxi in the morning and walk up the tiny hill that the orphanage sits on and play, change diapers, tuck the babies in at nap time, and then play again. But I wanted to do more, so I asked some of my equally broke friends to put together what they could and I bought food for all the babies. I loved it.
WC: Tell us more about your passion for empowering young women and girls.
LN: Women and men are equal and for the longest time we were denied the opportunity to express our talents, capabilities and power — the great injustice. No more! The world is on the edge of its seat as it beholds our uprising! There’s a platform and we have an audience, not just women, but men too! They want in on the action; on feminism, on gender equality — on the movement to propel women and girls to the very top of the mountain where we can see and reach out for everything that this world has to offer.
WC: How do you empower them to use their voice and not be afraid to speak up?
LN: I encourage women to be confident in who they are and to be themselves. The world is not looking for something new but rather, something you! You’re the only version of you that we’ll ever have! So stop wasting time trying to be like everybody else. You don’t have to be loud to make a statement, you just have to say it!
WC: Tell us more about your passion for maternal health. Why is that an issue close to your heart?
LN: I’m no doctor but at this point, I know a fair number of women who get their business in order during the nine months leading up to their delivery. It’s heartbreaking! The quality of healthcare [in Uganda] isn’t at the level it should be. Women deserve better maternal healthcare.
WC: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during the pandemic?
LN: I am more aware of how fickle social media is. It is a fake, overly demanding world. The pandemic has greatly emphasized the significance of people, real, physical people here in this moment with me. They have my full attention.
WC: What was it like keeping your team motivated despite the conflicts and obstacles brought by the pandemic?
LN: I definitely enjoy finding solutions to problems, so it was very refreshing to come up with different ways to keep in touch with everyone. Reaching out to them, distributing food, bonuses when the market prices shot up. I loved it! Uganda is working through what is now a devastating second wave of the pandemic.
WC: How is your team staying motivated during this second wave?
LN: Owing to the pandemic, schools across the nation are closed down. Our wonderful teachers are sending e-notes through various online platforms to our students so that they can continue to study even during the lockdown. We’ve made some video classes to support some of our early learners. We have a couple of kids that are unable to access the internet and they can simply walk to campus and pick up some hard copy notes.
For our staff, it’s all about communication at this point as nationwide lockdowns and transportation bans make it increasingly difficult to connect with everyone. So, it’s in the little things — phone calls, text messages. I’m not good with jokes but I try to make everyone laugh during our work What’s Up group. It really helps that some of our staff reside at the campus and I can see a couple of them every now and again.
WC: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
LN: Silence is golden! The world is so loud and there seems to be an expectation for us to be equally loud if we want to remain relevant. The latter part of this statement is false! I have found the opposite to be true: You cannot be a part of everything. Creativity and strength are birthed from within so you must guard your mind and keep the noise out!
WC: What advice would you give to the next generation of young people looking to make a difference in the world?
LN: Look inwards first. You cannot give what you do not have. You can only give as much as you can comprehend. To offer guidance, you must be wise. To lead, you must be able to serve. And to love others, you must love yourself — flaws and all.
WC: What impact do you hope your work and life will leave on this world?
LN: That the people I love, love others and that this beautiful cycle continues. A friend of mine calls it the chain of healing. The propensity of love to consume devastation, hurt and pain is inexhaustible. Love changes everything, modifies every dynamic and enhances every moment. This is what I hope to leave behind. There’s something inside you and I that keeps hope alive, erupts into sunlight and stands watch in the night. It listens to your silence, drives inspiration, and charges at fear on your command. Her name is love and what force she is!
WC: What does Believe Fearlessly mean to you?
LN: Believe Fearlessly means “dare to want it” — that lifestyle, that job, that relationship — and when you capture that great imagination in your heart, how much closer is it to your hand?
- Website: https://lovedoes.org