By Shania Muncil, Sonja Jensen, and Corey Rost
Our group started off our homestays in Nairobi nervous and excited to meet our new families. We waited for everyone to arrive at our compound in Karen, and one by one families came looking for their student. We had delicious snacks prepared by Isaiah, and even two birthday cakes to celebrate Sarah and Gretchen’s 21st birthdays! We chatted with our families, getting to know one another, before we all headed off to our new homes. We were spread across the city, from the CBD to Runda, Westlands, and even Karen. We spent our three weeks taking classes at the United Kenya Club, visiting local malls, trying traditional Kenyan restaurants, and most importantly becoming close with our host families. Some of us were even lucky enough to attend traditional weddings! Part of our urban program also included “urban activities” that we participated in on Fridays. For our first weekend, we split up into three groups to learn more about Kazuri Beads, Lea Toto, and Ocean Sole.
Kazuri is a bead and ceramics factory located in Karen. It began in 1975 as a tiny workshop, with an idea to experiment and try new bead and jewelry designs. The founder of Kazuri started by hiring two single mothers, but quickly realized that there were many more disadvantaged women struggling to get by in Kenya that could contribute to the business. This initial premise led Kazuri to grow exponentially in the last few decades, with a workforce of now over 340 women. This increase in employment is important, as Kazuri’s customer base has grown widely as well. Not only popular at home in Kenya, Kazuri ships orders to nations all over the world. The meaning of Kazuri in Swahili, “small and beautiful” is easy to understand once you walk into their little shop and see all of the jewelry, ceramics and trinkets waiting on the shelves.
We started off our morning with Kazuri by meeting some of the staff and getting the tour of the factory. We walked through the bead-making process, from rolling clay and shaping it, to firing it through the kiln, hand-painting and glazing, all done right there at the Kazuri factory. Kazuri also makes pottery, such as mugs, plates, bowls, and small animals. After our comprehensive tour, we were allowed to choose any part of the bead-making process to observe and participate in. Because there is no place better to start than the beginning, we sat down to roll and shape beads.
The women at Kazuri were extremely welcoming, and are clearly experts at their work. They showed us how to take portions of clay and shape them into spheres or squares of different sizes, depending on which beads needed to be made. It’s safe to say it isn’t as easy as it looks, although some of us were better at it than others. As they worked, the women chatted and compared beads and materials, all while producing perfect spheres and cubes to be made into dazzling jewelry. Next, we moved to the painting room. Here women take beads that have been put through the kiln, and paint them with various colors, depending on what each order calls for. This takes a steady hand and a watchful eye, as each bead needs to be fully coated without any cracks.
While working with the women of Kazuri, it was inspiring to see how many disadvantaged women are now employed because of this business. Additionally, many of them have been with Kazuri for years, some for decades! These women are experts at their craft, and produce some of the most beautiful art we have seen so far in Kenya. We ended our day at Kazuri with a trip to the gift shop, and a plan to return again before the semester ends! (to learn more visit their website: http://kazuri.com)
Lea Toto is an outreach program started by Nyumbani, a Catholic organization founded by American Jesuit Priest, Father Angelo D’Agastino, in 1992. Nyumbani’s goals are straight forward – to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates and improve the quality of life for affected children and families. To accomplish these goals, they currently work to provide assistance to children with HIV/AIDS through diagnostic services, medical care, holistic family and community building, preventative care, education and preventative care, environmental and sustainability education, and promoting self reliance. Many of their programs target children in low income areas. They currently serve over 4,000 HIV/AIDS survivors every year taking small but important steps towards improving the lives of the over 200,000 Kenyan children under the age of 14 with HIV/AIDS and the approximately 1.1 million children orphaned due to AIDS (http://www.nyumbani.org)
Nyumbani is unique in that their approach focuses on a “whole-child model” meaning they view each child as an individual with specific wants and needs. Lea Toto is a fantastic example of this model in work. Swahili for “to raise the child,” Lea Toto works within Kenya’s slums to provide home-based care to children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. Home-based care is important because it means less time and money is spent during hospital visits. In other words, it helps ensure that familial comfort does not have to be sacrificed simply because of a disease; “families can live better within their own homes.” Since its creation in 1998, Lea Toto has served between 2,100 and 3,100 HIV positive children and 15,000 family members each year.
We spend the morning visiting Kenya’s Kangemi slum, home to one of Lea Toto’s 8 outreach sites. We began our visit with a meeting with some of the staff at the branch. We discussed some of the programs and care they provide and what challenges they face. They told us that one of the biggest challenges of working within low income areas is ensuring basic medical, nutritional, and housing needs are met in addition to providing HIV related care.
With this in mind, and armed with the gift of a heavy box full of non-perishable food we broke up into two groups and, accompanied by some of Lea Toto’s dedicated social workers, went on home visits. Each group met with an individual or family that is involved with Lea Toto. We were welcomed into our hosts homes and we had the opportunity to get to know each other and to ask all sorts of questions ranging from what kind of assistance they receive from Lea Toto, the benefits and challenges of receiving aid before they became involved with Lea Toto and now with Lea Toto. One group visited a young man receiving in home treatment and assistance while another group met with the mother of two children that are doing very well with a self administered treatment program and are going to boarding school with the help of Lea Toto!
After our respective visits, we regrouped at the main offices and got to discuss our experiences and ask any more questions we had. Our visits were vert different, but that’s the beauty of Lea Toto. They embrace each individual and family as the unique people they are and strive to provide individualized care. Whether that be in the form of caregiver training, nutrition and food counseling, spiritual guidance, community building training, or so much more. Medical treatment of the disease does not necessarily equate to an improved life because diseases affect so much more than just an individual’s health; this is what sets Lea Toto and Nyumbani apart from the rest (to learn more about the work Lea Toto and Nyumbani do check out their websites! http://www.nyumbani.org/nyumbani-lea-toto-community-outreach/ and http://www.nyumbani.org)
Ocean Sole works to turn flip flop pollution in the oceans into art and functional products as a means to promote conservation of the oceans. In 1998 in Kiwayu, Kenya tons of flip flop pollution was washing up on the beaches creating an environmental disaster to the marine ecosystem and local communities. A year later, founder Julie Church, encouraged local women to collect, wash and cut these flip flops into the colorful products we see today. By 2000, these products were being sold commercially in Nairobi and in 2005 the company was officially established. Since then these colorful art pieces and functional products have gone global, raising awareness on flip flop pollution while improving upon local poverty through employment. Since the establishment of the company, Ocean Sole has cleaned up over 1,000 tons of flip flops from the Ocean and waterways of Kenya, provided steady income to over 150 Kenyans in the company and contributed over 10% of its revenue to marine conservation programs (to learn more about this incredible organization go to their website: http://oceansole.co.ke/).
Students started off their trip with a tour of the facilities. Our tour guide walked us through various stations that turned ordinary flip flops into pieces of art. Before anything could be done with the flip flops, they had to be scrubbed clean. Then they were sent to various work stations. Some workers pressed the shoes together to make templates and others used the flip flops to cover larger pieces. For these big pieces recycled house insulation is used to create the shape of the piece and it is then covered up with the flip flops. It is incredible how resourceful they are! We got to see them working on a life sized camel, one of their biggest projects yet.
After our tour we got to experience, we got our hands dirty and helped out in the process for the remainder of our trip. We all started scrubbing the flip flops and engaged with the employees. One of the women we were working with had only been working there for 2 weeks. After a while, we all split up and helped at the individual stations. Some helped tediously glue the manes onto the lions, while others started from the beginning and helped construct hippos. There isn’t anything quite as valuable as experiencing something first hand. We all gained a new appreciation for the art pieces and the work that goes behind them while increasing our awareness of the issues the marine environment faces. Our day ended in the gift shop, a perfect place to get souvenirs for friends and family!
Our second friday in Nairobi was spent at Karura Forest, a beautiful expanse of trees and small wildlife. Found in the northern part of Nairobi city, the forest is managed by the Kenya Forest Service, and is approximately 1,041 hectares in size, making it one of the largest protected forests in the world. However, the forest wasn’t always so revered by all of Kenya. While the forest was officially gazetted decades ago, there was a significant struggle, especially during the 90’s, to develop housing projects that would have decimated a large portion of Karura. Fortunately, through prolonged and passionate environmental activism, Wangari Maathai and others were able to save the forest. Since then, Karura is a shining example of resisting land-grabbing by corrupt politicians, as well as a gorgeous sanctuary that poor and wealthy alike can enjoy.
Students started their visit to Karura with an educational video on the history of the forest, featuring one of their newly found idols, Wangari Maathai, whose book the students read earlier in the semester. They were then able to engage in a question and answer with Professor Karanja Njoroge, a board member of Friends of Karura Forest and was a colleague of the late Maathai. Soon after they left for a guided walk around the forest. They admired the tall towering trees and saw various animals frockling through the forest as they made their way to the historical caves of the forest that were used as Mau Mau hideouts during the fight for independence from the colonial British government. Further down the students passed a waterfall cascading down into a river before returning to the trailhead.
We would also like to thank a fellow Saint, Jay Ireland ‘77, President and CEO of GE Africa, for hosting us at the GE offices after our day at the forest and teaching us about his work. SLU connections are everywhere!