Nathan Thomas, Founder and President of All We Are, has been conducting international development work in Africa since he was sixteen. His first project was collecting, repairing and sending computers to schools in Uganda. Now a senior mechanical engineering student at the University of Cincinnati, All We Are’s 50lc3 status as a bone fide charity was approved. This year Nate finished a rain catchment project in Uganda while completing an eight-month co-op program with a company in Kitzingen, Germany. In his spare time, Nate lifts weights, and is a DJ.
His current project is to collect $8,000 to send 50,000 pairs of sterile gloves to Liberia, one of three focal point countries in the Ebola crisis. Between 6,000 and perhaps as many as 12,000 people have died from this latest outbreak. Nate contributed the lead gift to get the ball rolling. With donations from individuals and the Rotary Club in Cincinnati, he has already raised enough money to finalize his first shipment to Liberia. Gloves for Love in Washington, D.C. is a support partner for his work.
“I saw the panic in the U.S. about the disease spreading here and wanted to do something positive. Stopping Ebola at its points of origin in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, by supporting safe medical intervention seemed the right approach. Health care workers need a huge supply of gloves. My parents were born in Kerala, India, in a tiny village. My brother, sister and I were born in Toronto and I grew up in Findlay, Ohio. I am truly fortunate to have what I call a ‘global mind set.’ My father is a professor who speaks seven languages and my mother is a dietician currently teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). We were always inviting international students to our home and they have stayed friends for life. My inspiration for overseas work came from an ophthalmologist and Rotarian who spoke at my Episcopal Church about his medical missions to Africa. Hearing him made me want to contribute to the lives of people, to help them help themselves. In high school I wanted to turn my passions into a project that would help people in Africa and from that All We Are was born.”
Upon graduation Nate hopes to combine his engineering degree with international development work, but knows whatever job he has, he will continue the work of All We Are. His next project is to identify four to six schools in Africa and set up systems using solar to provide clean water and light. “Kerosene, used in lamps, is in widespread use in Africa. It is dangerous and an expensive source of light. In Africa 58% of its people do not have access to electricity and 340 million Africans do not have access to clean water.”
When asked what he would tell other young people interested in this kind of work, Nate said. “I’ve been turned down a lot because of my age (22) and what people assume is my lack of experience. Don’t let “no” or a “challenge” intimidate you. Persist. Find a niche and fill it with your commitment and energy and start off small and build on your success. At the same time, be aware that there are millions of non-profits out there, so do your homework and don’t reinvent the wheel. There is a lot you can learn from collaborating with existing small and large organizations with successful development models. This isn’t easy work, but definitely rewarding work. Part of life for me is just to strive to be better in whatever I do.”
To reach Nathan Thomas, Founder and President of All We Are, visit his website, allweare.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview by Deborah E. Schultz
Deborah E. Schultz is an Advisory Board Member of the Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council.