Weekly Feature

2013-05-16 / Local News

OP native forms nonprofit to aid Congolese youth


Houghton Houghton To many people, the term “Central Africa” conjures a far away, abstract place. But for one Orchard Park native, the place and especially its people occupies a place close to the heart.

Nate Houghton, 24, who formerly lived in Orchard Park with his parents, currently residents of Eagle Heights, visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the first time when he was just 19, a sophomore in college traveling alone. He didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the first of many trips to the country that captured his heart.

“I remember driving through the capital and seeing so many of the different issues that existed,” said Houghton, noting in a phone interview that he would be returning to the Congo the next day for a trip lasting until the end of the month.

While still in college, studying policy analysis at Cornell University, he founded the Congo Leadership Initiative, a nonprofit. The CLI works with partner organizations to host leadership training practicums across the Congo.

“These programs, called Leadership Institutes, teach young leaders skills including social responsibility, leadership styles, team building concepts and techniques for community organizations,” according to the organization’s website.

“I am very entrepreneurial,” says Houghton, who now lives in downtown Buffalo and says he enjoys coffee and running. “I enjoy building the organization, the management element, doing something that hasn’t been done before.”

Although Houghton says he has always been interested in post-colonial Africa — aided by his French language studies — he was especially struck with the Congo, namely because of its vast mineral resources, which, in theory should allow it to become a successful state. He feels a lack of leadership contributes to the country’s inability to see success.

Houghton also says that attending Ridley College, a boarding school in Ontario, Canada that attracts students from around the world, during his junior and senior years of high school contributed to his global interests and outlook. He attended Orchard Park High School his first two years of high school.

Houghton says that anyone starting an organization has to be willing to fail — repeatedly.

“You’re going to consistently fail, like every day, at everything you do, all the time,” he says, laughing. “You find new solutions. You’re doing something that hasn’t been done before.”

Despite the early discouragement, Houghton says CLI is growing. Starting this summer, the nonprofit will have eight sites teaching the leadership programming, and by this time next year, Houghton hopes to reach 1,000 Congolese youth. Half of the country’s population of about 7 million are less than 19 years old, said Houghton, meaning an enormous group of youth.

“You have this vision before other people see it,” says Houghton, “and then to see it happen is really exciting.”

(Story ideas for this feature can be sent to Orchard Park Bee Editor Naomi Spencer, Bee Publications, 5564 Main St., Williamsville, NY 14221-5410 or call 204-4902.)

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