British TV presenter and celebrity baker Nadiya Hussain was overwhelmed during her visit to a school for underprivileged children in Dhaka. Nadiya cooked meal for three hundred children in that school and said she felt so fulfilled that she wanted to keep on doing that. “Coming here I don’t feel sadness, I feel hope,” she said. Nadiya was visiting a Jaago school where the meal is provided by Thrive, a nonprofit volunteer-run organization started by by three American expat moms in 2012 after seeing the scores of undernourished children begging for food in Bangladesh.
“It started with just a basket of bananas. Then it was two baskets after a few days. We didn’t really envision being where we are now,” said co-founder and the vice president of Thrive, Gina Gabel. Founded by Gina, Priscilla Hefflefinger and Regina Landor, who lived in Dhaka at that time, Thrive began with the delivery of 250 bananas at a school in a Korail neighborhood.
But Thrive is much more than just its founders, as Priscilla Hefflefinger put it. “We wouldn’t be where we are without our local volunteers, especially without the efforts of Sadia Moyeen, Amna Rahman, Ali Arsalan and all of the other colleagues,” said Priscilla, president of Thrive.
Thrive currently feeds children at six schools in Dhaka and two community centers in Manila. The meals cost roughly 50 cents per child and include eggs, bananas, peanuts, seasonal fruits and/or vegetables, and a glass of milk.
The whole motivation behind the initiative comes from the simple understanding that scores of children go hungry and it is not very difficult to provide a nourishing meal to some of these kids. “Anyone who has stepped foot on a busy street in Dhaka knows that childhood hunger here is vast. It is a reality that stares up at you and begs you to do something. Thrive supporters listen to those pleas and decide to be part of the solution. With growing support from individuals and corporations, Thrive will be able to serve additional children facing immediate hunger and make a more meaningful impact on the future of this beautiful country and beyond,” said Gina Gabel co-founder and vice president of Thrive.
From its humble beginning in 2012 the nonprofit organization has come a long way. In 2018 Thrive now delivers more than 3,750 meals weekly to schoolchildren in Bangladesh and the Philippines.
To celebrate the anniversary, Thrive's founders Gina Gabel and Priscilla Heffelfinger, and Thrive board members Sadia Moyeen, Amna Rahman, and Kanwal Bhagat got together in Dhaka for the first time to reconnect with the schoolchildren Thrive feeds, meet with new schools in need, and visit a Rohingya refugee camp in Teknaf to pack food for families fleeing violence in Myanmar.
The visit to a Rohingya camp by the founders and board directors provided them with a clearer picture of the reality on the ground. Even though Thrive has been working five years in providing aid to the underprivileged, it had not worked with refugees before. Priscilla and the others personally did not have any previous experience of visiting refugee camps. “We went to the camp in Teknaf without any previous experience with refugee settlements, except for what you see on the news, so our eyes were wide open,” Priscilla said.
Priscilla was surprised to find the camps more organized than she and her colleagues had anticipated. But she fears that without long-term strategies that will not amount to much. “Without a long-term plan, and with the pending rains, it felt hopeless. They seemed to hold onto to what they could count on - family/community and their faith,” she said.
“Of course, the children, like those we see in the Dhaka slums, are resilient and are creating their joy through soccer, swimming, and running freely. The women, through an interpreter, shared horrific tales that are too much to hold or understand, but somehow they are surviving, likely with the impetus to keep their children, their hope alive,” the Thrive president added.
Thrive has partnered with Esrat of the Amal Foundation to provide dry food, such as rice, lentils, oil, potatoes, on a monthly basis to 500 families. “It is a drop in the bucket, really, but combined with the efforts of many other local and international aid programs it helps make a meaningful dent,” Priscilla said.