Natalie Green, Africa New Life’s U.S. director of strategic partnership, shares her journey of leaving a Wall Street job to pursue nonprofit work and solo mothering.
By Courtney Runn, Photos courtesy of Natalie Green
Children have always captured Natalie Green’s heart. At 6 years old, she was ready to financially sponsor a child during Ethiopia’s famine crisis. In middle school, she started researching and writing papers for school on adoption. In college, she volunteered with Young Life and her first job after graduating from the University of Texas was teaching elementary school.
At 30, as she stared down her next decade, she came to a crossroads. Should she stay in New York City at her stable Wall Street job, or pursue her lifelong passion of advocating for children? She took the risk, moving back to Austin to fundraise for three years before joining Africa New Life, a nonprofit led by Rwandans that supports children educationally, physically, relationally and spiritually.
As the U.S. director of strategic partnerships, Green now splits her time between Austin and Rwanda and, for the first time in several years, she’s spending her summer in Texas because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Though separated by an ocean, her heart is still in East Africa. Amidst the national conversations surrounding racism in the U.S., Green sees hope for her birth country in her adopted country.
“Rwanda is a witness to the world of reconciliation,” Green says. “And the work that I’ve seen and the powerful redemption and life and reconciliation I’ve seen in Rwanda gives me hope for our country.”
Austin Woman chatted with Green about taking career risks, her love for Rwanda and her journey of becoming a mom as a single woman.
Austin Woman: Normally, you spend the summer with your sons in Rwanda. What has it been like staying home this year because of COVID-19?
Natalie Green: I recognized this a few days ago that I’m definitely grieving not going this summer. It puts you up close and personal to the heart of the work. And then I’m able to take that back with me to the States the whole year to advocate and to bring people along on the journey.
AW: What are you missing most about your Rwandan summers?
NG: Community. There’s something really special about Rwandan culture and East African community. The whole village concept is so true; it’s not just an expression…There’s always someone interacting with my children and I don’t have to worry because Jude is with me and I look across the room and someone is holding Hayes.
AW: What first drew you to the country?
NG: My first touch point with Rwanda was in 2002. I had moved to New York City right after 9/11 and my church was involved with Rwanda. My pastor had been on a vision trip and he came back and gave us the opportunity to sponsor a child from Rwanda. …[I] had this flashback to 1984, when I was very aware of the Ethiopian famine and I was 6 years old and I wanted to sponsor a child. And at the time there was a lot of televangelism corruption so [my parents] were very leery of doing it. We didn’t do it at the time, and it was understandable the concerns they had, and now fast forward all this time and I’m sitting there going, ‘I can do this.’ So, I sponsored a little girl in 2002. Because of my career, I didn’t have much vacation time and it was a very intense job on Wall Street. But, in 2007, I had the opportunity when I was shifting roles to take a month off work and go to Rwanda and I met that little girl and it was very, very impactful to me. It was sort of the moment where time stood still for me…When I got back, I couldn’t stop talking about it and I couldn’t stop sharing about it. It was such a significant time for me to analyze, what am I passionate about? What do I want to do in my life? What makes my heart beat? What do I want my career to look like?
AW: How did you go from starting to ask yourself those questions to taking the leap of quitting your job to pursue nonprofit work in Rwanda?
NG: It was hard to walk away because I loved New York City and it had gotten in my blood and honestly, I thought, “I could stay here forever.” And that was 50 percent exciting to me and 50 percent scary…I really wanted to have a family. Here I was, 30, and I was a little afraid that, if I stayed, I wasn’t sure where I would have time to meet someone with the career I was in. I hadn’t met anyone up until that point so that was the [reason it] was scary to stay, but then scary to leave was I had a very significant stability with income and my job. It was a really fun season of life to get to travel, to have so many life experiences. And to be in New York City in my 20s was magical. [I knew if ] I was going to take this leap of faith into this other career, that it was giving up as well [as] gaining so many profound things at the same time.
AW: You took the risk of leaving your job and then you started considering another significant life change. When did you start seriously pursuing having kids as a single mom?
NG: If I got to 35 and I had not met a man to start a family with and be married to, then I still wanted to have a family and have children. I think my work magnifies this for me, that I was with children and loved them and had always loved them and had always wanted to be a mother…I went through the process trying to find an agency in Texas that would work with me. It was an interesting thing because there are several agencies that are well known that people really like and believe to be above board in their ethics but they would not work with me because I was single and that was really disillusioning to me because it was a form of discrimination and I felt that. I knew at this point in my life I had a stable job, stable income and a stable community of people that were excited to come alongside me as a village. I was finally introduced to a woman in Houston who owns a small agency and she is just an incredible woman [who] said I’d love to walk alongside you in the process… [My adopted son] is biracial. His heritage is actually East African…[so the agency] thought of matching us together. They knew his heritage would be celebrated. Immediately, from the moment we finalized his adoption and were able to get his passport, we were off to East Africa and that’s been our journey ever since of this back and forth. He’s very proud of that.
AW: After adopting, what led you to adding to your family biologically?
NG: I’ve always had this desire—in addition to adoption—to experience pregnancy if I could and labor and delivery and have a baby naturally in that way. I didn’t know if I could or not, so I decided to try through IUI…I went through this process with my doctor and conceived and was able to carry and deliver my son in the summer of 2017. So, Jude became a big brother to Hayes and again my family and friends—the whole concept of it takes a village—were so supportive of the process. Both of these processes are sort of outside the box for some people, just the fact that I’m single and then adopting and then single and conceiving on my own with the help of science. I knew that there would be some criticism to it, but people didn’t really criticize me. I found that more people were very supportive. People knew me and they knew my heart and so they were excited to come on this journey with us. So now I have this 7-year-old and almost 3-year-old.
AW: What have been some of the challenges of parenting as a single mom?
NG: I see the work that I do as such a blessing to our family, and yet there are moments I want to be home with my kids. There’s a tension that lies right there. So many of the statistics about single motherhood are really about unexpected pregnancies. They’re not about planning this. That’s why I refer to it as solo mothering. I don’t feel like I’m single mothering. I don’t feel like I’m part of the single-parent statistics where I started out with a spouse, a husband, and sharing the responsibilities and also the finances and time. I went in knowing I would need to be creative with the resources at hand whether that’s time or finances.
AW: What gives you the courage to chase after dreams even when they might seem “unconventional?”
NG: We have to silence the critics. There’s always going to be people who don’t agree with things and maybe things we’re doing [seem] out of order or just not the cultural norm. But at the end of the day, that’s not the voice I’m listening to. I’m listening to God and I care about those who are closest to us doing life with us and they know my heart.