Growing up, I have always been on the receiving side of international development and assistance. I was raised in a small village in western Uganda in the Kibaale district with no electricity, running water, or paved roads. Today, as a senior at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, I have a unique opportunity to reflect on my upbringing and how organizations like World Vision, with whom I’m currently interning, strive to work alongside families in order to drive sustainable development. During my internship, I am learning how development and humanitarian programs are designed and implemented and how communities like my own are placed at the center when making key decisions that impact our lives and well-being.
By being on this side of international development, I am allowed to be a part of the efforts and initiatives that empowered me to be the person that I am today, in hopes that others will be able to follow and gain access to many of the same opportunities I received. As I begin to envision my future, I realize I want to be a rural transformer, working with families and young people in rural communities so that they can drive their own change.
In addition to World Vision’s humanitarian and development work, it also remains actively involved in advocacy, allowing the organization to shape and advance public policies that enable it to make a greater impact around the world. Earlier this month, I received an incredible opportunity to participate in one of the organization’s advocacy efforts through its World Vision Pastor and Influencer Advocacy Summit held in Washington, D.C. One of the primary objectives of the summit was to gather several religious leaders from around the country and train and mobilize these key stakeholders to advocate in support of the U.S. government’s International Affairs Budget, which includes funding for global humanitarian and development programming. During the week, we also learned more about World Vision’s initiative to end violence against children, which included a launch event on Capitol Hill attended by various U.S. government officials, Congressional leaders, and pastors participating in the summit.
During the summit, which included several meetings with members of Congress and staff on Capitol Hill, I learned that advocacy is about standing up for strong public policies that support families and communities around the world. Importantly, advocacy also means being authentic and representing your values. Throughout the summit, we found opportunities to gather and pray alongside Congressional leaders, who appreciated being uplifted by our words of prayer and encouragement.
As someone who grew up in a small village, the issues discussed during this summit hit home. When I was 15, my mother, and only guardian, passed away. Since I was the oldest child, I automatically assumed her role as head of the family, which meant I had to provide for my family. I had to find and provide food, education, and healthcare for my siblings, my grandmother, and myself. I was only a girl — 15-years-old, and I had no source of income. From my experience, children like my siblings and me often end up victims of various forms of violence including land and property grabbing, child marriage, child labor, and a lack of education.
Unfortunately, these realities are not unique to my siblings and me and are all too common in my home country. However, I was fortunate to have access to educational opportunities and other programs that are supported by organizations like World Vision, the U.S. government, and other donors. Now, I am committed to using my education and experiences to ensure others have the same opportunities.
Ultimately, I believe that God desires for each of his children to not only live but thrive in dignifying and empowering ways. But God challenges us by not assuming this task alone. Rather, he calls each and every one of us to join and use our voices whether that be on Capitol Hill, in churches and places of worship, or even possibly in my own rural village.
Catherine Namwezi was born and raised in rural Western Uganda. Her village is located about six hours away from Kampala, the capital of Uganda. She is currently a senior at Hope College, in Holland, Michigan, pursuing a double major in Political Science and International Studies with a minor in Business Management. She is passionate about the holistic transformation of rural communities through the empowerment of people so they can drive their own change. Catherine served on Hope College’s Student Congress for two years — eventually becoming the Class Representative, served as the Vice President for the Student Ambassador program, and served on the Hope Nourish International Chapter as the President. She spent a semester in Geneva Switzerland studying International Relations and Multilateral Diplomacy. She is currently an intern at World Vision with the Government Relations and Advocacy team.
Kozesa Iraka Lyawe is a translation of “Use your voice” in Runyooro, Catherine’s mom’s native language.
Photo: Catherine Namwezi (second from the right), her grandmother, and two siblings at home in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Namwezi.)