By: Kim Stuart
Lavendah Namyalo is on a mission to empower the women and girls of Uganda. And sometimes that mission means she has to speak up even though it’d be easier to stay quiet.
Directly out of law school, Lavendah found early success within a large corporation. Strong, capable women in positions of leadership gathered her in and mentored her from the start. Lavendah says these women and their shattering of historical norms of power in Uganda gave her the beautiful gift of seeing herself as a participant in leadership and change. They were unflinching in their support of her. Once, when Lavendah asked one mentor if she could attend an important meeting and promised she would hang back and just observe, the mentor was clear.
“She said, ‘Lavendah, if you attend that meeting and you don’t say a thing, then don’t go.’”
Lavendah was expected to use her voice.
Her positions in those early days allowed Lavendah to gain invaluable experience in myriad areas of law— banking, international, family, criminal, infrastructure— but the work left her feeling restless. Nothing satisfied until she began advocating for vulnerable communities in 2017.
“The thing that fuels me is work that fills my heart up with joy and with light,” Lavendah says. When she immersed herself in using her voice to elevate the powerless, “the lightbulb just went on, and that was it.”
Lavendah knew of Love Does and its work after reading Everybody Always by Bob Goff, so when she learned of the open position of country director of Uganda, she couldn’t wait to apply. “It was a dream,” she says.
Lavendah’s own dreams for her country are big, and they are propelling her to action in her daily work in Uganda. She dreams of true equality for Ugandan men and women, pointing to inequality as the root cause of domestic violence, childhood marriages, and harmful ignorance. She is passionate about maternal health. The numbers of preventable maternal deaths each year in Uganda are “staggering,” she says, and the issue is close to her heart. She advocates for her pregnant friends and family members, to ask the right questions and get as much quality prenatal care as they can. This issue is one of many that exposes the corruption preventing those in need from receiving the resources intended for them. “If we can do away with that vice,” Lavendah says, “it will mean a better Uganda for everybody.”
With such bold dreams, Lavendah is keenly aware that big change comes to fruition with daily determination. “I’ve come to realize it’s really in the little things that we can instill these huge principles in people.” Listening well, empowering well, loving well—this is Lavendah’s heartbeat of leadership. Sweeping change comes with the perseverance of small moments. Together, the Love Does team in Uganda is empowered to chip away at big goals in an authentic, empathetic way.
The last year gave the Uganda team many opportunities to lead, listen and love well. The beginning of the pandemic, Lavendah says, brought with it crippled morale, fear, and hardship at every turn. In many surrounding areas, motivation was low, she remembers. People were losing jobs and living with looming uncertainty and financial insecurity. The Love Does team found ways to step into the moment and bring tangible hope with them. They provided food for staff members and distributed face shields, masks, and hand sanitizer. The staff wore the safety gear with pride, Lavendah says, smiling as she recalled how they called it “armor” and as a way to identify each other with pride when they spotted one another in town. What began as a season of fear and scarcity began to reshape as a time of gathering together, getting creative, and pressing ahead. Lavendah remembers the joy of knowing they were not alone in this fight. “We received a letter from the international team that said ‘We are devoted to you. We won’t leave your side.’” Solidarity in a time of great uncertainty infused the team with hope.
Lavendah is mindful that her ability to lead through crisis and great challenges resulted from time with capable mentors. Her father, past colleagues, and mentors in the field of law diligently advocated for her and taught her how to live a life of love, resilience, and confidence. She knows she is a product of an invaluable education of mentorship, and she wants to continue to pass along that gift. “Because people kept pouring in all of these things—their time, their effort—that’s what I’m always striving to do,” she says. “I never want anyone to go through my hands and feel worthless. I want to succeed in raising leaders.”
Lavendah offers hard-won counsel for little girls looking to be the next generation of Ugandan leaders. She wants to inspire them to lead well within their varied spheres of influence, whether that’s in a courtroom, a busy home, using their voice when it’d be easier not to. “Hang in there,” she says with a thoughtful smile. “I’ve always thought this world belongs to the brave. If you can reach out for it, you can get it. So keep going.” She nods and adds one more piece of advice: “And live and love boldly.”
The students and team in Uganda are watching Lavendah live out her own advice. Love in perpetual, persistent, bold action, walking in the footsteps of women who encouraged a young girl just starting out to use her voice.
Uganda is listening.
We are listening.
And it sounds beautiful.