After spending an exciting week in Tanzania with the Hadzabe we were off on a new adventure: urban homestays! Each of us had the pleasure of becoming part of a family for three weeks in neighborhoods all over Nairobi. We all had a great time with our families and exploring the city while also attending classes as a group. Some of the places that we visited with our families included: the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, the Giraffe Center, Ngong Hills, a traditional Kenyan wedding, and church. One homestay family even invited the entire group over for an afternoon barbeque. In addition to the outings with our families, we also had the fabulous opportunity to choose one of three organizations to visit: Kazuri Beads, Ocean Sole, and Lea Toto.
Kazuri, meaning “small and beautiful” in Swahili, is an organization that provides employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenya, mainly women. It began as a small workshop in 1975 experimenting with homemade beads and has expanded into a full fledged bead-making operation. Their mission statement really resonated with me especially this segment, “In the developing world of today’s Africa, the greatest contribution we can make is to create employment, especially for the disadvantaged and this remains our guiding philosophy. The result is reflected in the strength of the Kazuri Family and the beauty of our products.” We found beauty in the empowerment of women, as well as the actual product- each bead was made out of love!
(The employees helped teach the students how to
make beads from clay)
While we were visiting we had the opportunity to sit with some of the women and construct some of our own beads. Employees spend their days rolling and shaping a variety of shapes and sizes of beads and in the few hours we spent there we realized how skilled these women are. In the time we were there we had a great time chatting with the employees and trying to perfect rolling the clay into spheres. We stayed primarily in the first phase of bead construction which involved making clay into the variety of shapes in sizes that the beads come in. After this they are put into the kiln and then glazed in a beautiful array of colors and then put back in the kiln for a final firing. Finally, the now finished beads are strung together into the final product and sold all over the world. It was wonderful getting to talk to the women as we worked and we were truly able to feel the sense of community especially during our chai break where everyone shared snacks they had brought from home.
On the first weekend a small group of us went to Ocean Sole, a small organization that turns old flip flops into artwork. As we walked around a guide told us “flip flops are the poor man’s shoe…everyone has a pair”. As a result, many of these flipflops are discarded and many of them are winding up in the ocean. Ocean Sole started collecting flip flops and recycling them into artwork of all different shapes and sizes. This organization took off after the United Nations ordered a few hundred key chains, which provided the money to build the organization headquarters in Nairobi, and to fund both the flip flop collectors and artists.
I was immediately struck by all of the colors. I stood next to an elephant statue that was bigger than I was and it was sporting electric greens, pinks, blues, and yellows of the flip flops that once wandered about Kenya. We were given a brief tour and then we were put to work. First we started by washing flip flops. Scrubbing off all the dirt and mysterious gunk that was caked on them. Once the flipflops are washed, they are cut, glued together into block like shapes, and then carved into the desired statue. After washing some of us went to the glueing station and others started to carve. I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I spent at Ocean Sole. I love the idea of recycling something- something gross and dirty like the remnants of an old flip flop, into something beautiful.
Another component to the urban home stay, was small group participation in different local organizations close to Karen. One organization that we visited was called Lea Toto which means “To Raise a Small Child”. Lea Toto is a community based outreach program that helps to extend care to HIV+ children through medical services, nutrition, and counseling. Lea Toto works towards improving the quality of life that children and young adults have in poor informal settlements through community home based care. Through the use of community home based care the organization provides care directly to the child at home. While the children can still receive services at the center, members from Lea Toto come on site to the child’s home. Lea Toto provides services that the children might not be able to receive without this organization. This allows for privacy, and for the organization to provide services to many more children compared to if they were caring for children directly at the center. Through Lea Toto we had the unique experience to talk to a few children who benefited from the services offered in the program. They welcomed us into their homes and we had a very interesting discussion about the stigmas associated with being HIV+. We also discussed how Lea Toto has helped them both physically by providing medication but also mentally with counseling as well as providing a safe place and open community for discussion about the disease. The work that this organization does is extremely important and allows people living in poor informal settlements to seek the medical attention that they need while also getting educated and informed about HIV.
Karura Forest Urban Field Trip
I love to walk in the forest. “When you walk into the forest- you will not leave without a smile” Joyce, Emily’s host mother said to me as we walked into the gate of Karura Forest. What a special place. Karura Forest is a 2,570 acre woodland that was first established in 1932 and later protected by Wangari Maathai. Originally the forest was not exactly a place you wanted to be because it was dangerous. The forest was later threatened by development in the 1990s, but because of Wangari Maathai’s efforts- the forests stands today. In addition to this, the forest is a now a nice, safe, green space for the people in Nairobi.
Reflection with Amber:
Over the course of the Urban Homestay I spent a lot of time in this forest. I went walking with so many important people in my life here, my host family, my actual mother, and my friends. We even took a field trip the forest as a group. There were so many interesting nooks, crannies, and little wonderlands in the forest. There were pine trees dripping with old man’s beard moss that reminded me of home, there were dense pockets of greenery and vines tangled over a stream that was inhabited by frogs and little fish, and then there were the trees. The lovely, beautiful, incredible trees. Some of them were ancient, some were in their first year of life, but all of them were working hard to bring fresh clean air to the city of Nairobi. That is such a gift. My family lived close to the forest and every afternoon I when I returned home from school I would sit outside and take in the fresh forest air, no burning trash, no car fumes- just the good stuff.
I really valued the time that I spent with my host family, especially at this time. Because of the re-elections the political climate has been interesting to say the least. It was so interesting to watch the news, to get into debates with my family over dinner, and to feel like I was pretty in the know with what was going on. I also felt very humbled by the kindness of my family- they welcomed me into their home with open arms and I quickly felt right at home. I found that relationship to be a two way street and I am thankful that I was able to spend a lot of time with my family and I look forward to staying in touch with them for a long time.
Reflection with Ella:
I am so incredibly grateful for my experience with my urban host family- I wish it was longer than three weeks! I was able to get very close with my two host brothers and two host sisters. I didn’t realize how alike we are, we all loved similar music and movie genres, as well as being outdoors and spending time with our families. I was also able to understand Swahili a lot more while at my time there. Although my family spoke fluent English as well, they would speak easy Swahili to me so I can learn and speak back to them. I appreciated our conversations regarding Kenyan politics, education, and society; I was able to really feel what it is like living in urban Kenya. This is such a great component of the Kenya Semester Program, and I am so happy to have a Kenyan family I can keep in contact with and hopefully see in the near future!