I Quit HR Job in the US, Sold Everything and Moved to Kenya with One Suitcase

June 27, 2022

Janet Patry is the Executive Director of Right 2 Thrive, an NGO that fights poverty through multi-generational empowerment and education. Their programs and activities are designed to help both generations of a family develop the right mindset and skills to fulfill their potential.

Ms Patry has been living and working in Kenya for 10 years and is now officially a Kenyan citizen.

Tell us about your childhood and educational background

I was the type of child who loved being outdoors, playing sports and games with my siblings and the neighbourhood kids. I had my first job at age 9. I delivered newspapers so I could make money and buy my own things.

The first big thing I saved my money for was a BMX bike. There was a dirt track near our house where I could race and do jumps.

I went to catholic school for primary and secondary school and grew up doing volunteer work and community service as part of my education.

In school, I was a bit mischievous, and known for playing pranks on teachers and nuns. I went to New York University for 2 years, and then dropped out because I really wanted to be making money and traveling rather than reading about people and places in books.

I eventually went back and finished a degree in business at age 32.

Share with us your career journey

My career journey has not been linear because I have had many jobs across different industries from waitressing and bartending to working as an extra in a Power Rangers movie to having people’s lives in my hands as an Emergency Medical Technician.

In those jobs, I was always the person who trained new employees and I really loved it. This is what launched my career in Human Resources where I specialized in Coaching/Mentoring, and Training and Development.

After working in community healthcare in New York City for 7 years, I took a 3-week holiday to Kenya where I intended to volunteer at a children’s home and then go on safari.

The 22 girls at the home were not in school, so, I went to Kawangware market, bought text books and then painted a board with black paint, bought some chalk and found some local teachers to help me teach the girls.

There was one very strong-willed girl named Daphine who made me promise to send them all to school. I don’t take promises lightly, so, I went back to New York City and started a non-profit called Right2 Thrive to provide education scholarships to the girls at the children’s home.

Within a year, the home had doubled in size and we offered almost 40 scholarships to boys and girls living there.

After 5 years of flying back and forth to Kenya, I decided it would be much better and easier to just move to Kenya. So, in June of 2012, I quit my human resources job, sold everything I owned, and moved to Kenya with one suitcase.

Ten years later, I still enjoy doing a variety of different jobs. I split my time as Executive Director of Right 2 Thrive, Learning & Development Consulting, and most recently I have begun working in the wellness industry as a life coach and BodyTalk Practitioner.

What are the fondest memories of your career journey thus far?

I once convinced the conductor of a Star bus to let me stand in the doorway shouting beba beba along Ngong road. That was fun.

My favourite memories as a trainer are when the learner has their a-ha moment, and everything comes together. Especially when we’re teaching emotional intelligence—there’s nothing more beautiful than witnessing someone understand themselves in a completely new and empowering way.

What has been a key driver of your growth? Lessons learnt, celebrations and failures?

Epic failures, perseverance, continuous learning, and a sense of humour. I have learned far more from my failures than I have from my successes, so I think a key driver has been the ability to persevere through the tough times and come out wiser on the other side of it.

I also think it’s extremely important to try new things and learn new skills. I push myself outside my comfort zone deliberately because that’s where the growth happens. I like to get an early start to my day.

I wake up between 4 and 5 am to meditate and figure out my priorities for the day. I try to get the most important tasks done before 9 am when I can focus deeply. I work in focused blocks of time for all the different work I do. No two days are ever the same which keeps life interesting.

Who are the people or relationships that you can single out that have been useful in your career growth and how did they influence your trajectory?

I have always had incredibly supportive friends and family who let me be me. I was never forced to follow any one path and I am deeply grateful for that.

Here in Kenya, my husband has been instrumental in helping me navigate everyday life. When I first moved here, he would draw me the most beautiful and detailed maps so I could find my way around CBD and wherever else I needed to go.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in life?

The work we do at Right 2 Thrive with families. We provide education scholarships and life skills training to children but we also provide training, mentoring, and coaching to parents to give them the skills to earn an income and more importantly to strengthen the relationships between parents and children. This helps to unlock the potential of the whole family to break the cycle of multi-generational poverty.

Since I moved to Kenya in 2012, we have provided 71 primary and 9 secondary education scholarships. We have one university graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business, 3 diploma holders, 6 currently pursuing their degrees and 2 more who will start university in September this year.

In addition to scholarships, we have had 6300 children participate in our youth empowerment programs over the past 10 years.

Our community development work has provided business skills training, workforce readiness training, income generating skills training, and personal empowerment training to approximately 8450 adults since 2012.

Key decisions you might have taken along your career journey?

The decision to move to Kenya was the one that changed everything for me. In addition to expanding Right 2 Thrive’s programs, I got really lucky and also found the love of my life, Gakunju Kaigwa and gained a whole new beautiful family.

Your current role and scope of job?

I’m the Executive Director of Right 2 Thrive where I’m responsible for daily operations, managing the team, evaluating our programs, and fundraising.

Since Covid, I have stopped traveling the world to do in-person trainings and instead moved into the digital learning sector which has been a lot of fun for me. Lockdown has also given me the opportunity to become a certified BodyTalk Practitioner which is a healing modality that restores balance, communication, and synchronization within the body and mind so people can live healthier and happier lives.

What would you advise the youth in Kenya today?

Create your own opportunities, strengthen your resilience with emotional intelligence, and build meaningful and authentic relationships.

Future plans in your career and in life?

To expand Right 2 Thrive’s programs and reach to other communities. We’re still a small team so I would love to see us grow to the point that we can hire lots of youth and mentor them as they begin their careers. Once we make that happen, my next big plan is to open a wellness center to teach people how to heal themselves. The past two years have been extremely hard for so many people and I would like to be part of helping people align with their authentic selves, step into their personal power, and live the life of their dreams.

What do you do for fun?

Travel, socialize, and try new things.

If there was one thing you could change about your past, what would that be?

Not a single thing. Everything I have been through has led me here and there’s no other place I’d rather be.

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