Monday, 20 April 2020

Holding our Breath

Who would have thought that within a few short months of creating Ailsa's Suitcase we would be entirely on hold? All of the clothes that have been collected so far have been stored away in our loft in suitcases to prevent any risk of contamination, and when we eventually get the down again, we can steam clean them before sending them off to Kenya - who knows when that will be and it might be that we'll need to send everything as freight until passenger flights get going again.

It's a terrible time for everyone across the world and extremely worrying for countries like Kenya where there is little financial support for anyone not able to work - and more particularly for anyone not to be able to get food. There is a high risk of civil unrest at times like this and also people turning to so-called bush-meat for sustenance. We think of this as a time for nature to rest and recover, even if we can't.

It would be easy to throw our arms up in there and say what is the point of carrying on with Ailsa's Suitcase but the short answer to that is that we must. Clothing is of real benefit to people whose primary concern is simply getting the family fed. It's a long term way out of poverty too. In the meantime however, please continue to give to charities, wherever they are, and think before you say stop foreign aid.

Xanthe has been busy during the lock down in Mallorca

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Corona Virus

I am so sorry to hear that Corona Virus has made it to Kenya. We might tell ourselves that things couldn't get any worse than it is here, or in Italy, but conditions in the most crowded places in Kenya mean that it could run rife. The first case has been discovered within the University at Nairobi and there are currently 22 people in quarantine, but once it finds its way into the slums and shanty towns the death toll could be horrendous.

As the news came out, those that come from more rural areas were forced to leave the city, student accommodation closed down, public transport cramped and crowded. How many people will  inadvertently take the virus home?

More than ever we are united and untied by global problems - poverty, land, space, technology, medicine, hygiene, contact and separation.

Until this is all over we may not be able to function very well as a project - but this is the least of our worries at this time. We don't know if the flights we had lined up to take additional baggage will even take off. Like everyone else we just have to sit and be patient and flexible. If love was enough it would certainly happen.

Stay safe my friends - wherever you are.

Monday, 9 March 2020

When owls are good luck

Young, uneducated girls in pastoralist communities in Kenya sometimes have to grow up very quickly. Girls as young as thirteen are often left to herd the families' goats, and soon married off to older men to have a series of babies while they are still children. Many become ill or even die from maternal conditions. The only escape for them is to go to school and to become educated. This is the story of Neema, one young woman who was diverted out of poverty through sheer good luck...

While Neema was taking care of her goats, she came across some owl chicks. In her culture owls are considered to be extremely bad luck, and the boys that were with her told her to kill them. Ignoring them, Neema decided to take the chicks home to her family. They weren't very pleased and contacted our good friend Ambrose, who was known for his work with leopards, to come and help. He and Neema took the chicks back to where they came from and restored them to their nest.

Ambrose noticed how interested Neema was in the chicks and wildlife generally and was concerned that this interest would go to waste. Through the Loisaba Community Conservation Foundation he applied for funds to send her to school and finally persuaded her reluctant father that she should be allowed to go.

Once permission had been given, Ambrose removed the traditional beads from around her neck which signified that she was available for marriage, and instead she was given a school uniform. Shy and no doubt nervous she went off to school for her very her first day along with all of the things she needed.

Neema now attends Lentile Hills Academy where she is in Grade One and is getting great results. During holiday periods she gets together with Sarah and Nellie, the two young students that my friend Xanthe and I are sponsoring through school.

If you are interested in sponsoring a child through school then please contact: Loisaba Community Conservation Foundation direct.

You can also help by providing a tired suitcase, decent clothing, or the rest of your long haul baggage allowance on a flight to Nairobi from the UK. We will help you to get this to remote communities in Kenya via our charitable links there.

All photos by kind permission Amblai Photography

Thursday, 5 March 2020

You, great knit!

I was a little overwhelmed this morning to receive a neat box through the post which contained the most exquisite knitted cardigans, light jumpers, hats and bootees for small babies in Kenya. I know, absolutely know, that there were created with love, absolute love, since Xanthe has accompanied us on our last two visits to the Mara and Loisaba.

We've taken special care - okay, we asked Ambrose - to make sure that knitted items are appropriate and wanted, and he has reassured us that they are.

Meanwhile Frances has been mentioned in dispatches by the material shop that she frequents in Lyndhurst - Nicola's Fabrics - for turning fabulous prints into a beautiful dress and a whole heap of reusable sanitary pads.

Second hand or new, we know that things that you give us are given with love and compassion. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Good things come in threes

It's been a really good day with our very first passengers all lined up to take three suitcases out to Kenya. Just as you think you might have 'invented' a model that won't work, everything slots into place. I ache to make this work and it is really difficult to explain why this project is so important to me and to the people who will benefit from it. Unless you've got oodles of cash to throw at a charity it is hard to come up with something that is just plain helpful.

 We've also been offered some more clothes by a lady in Wales - another friend just happens to be going on holiday there in a few weeks' time so she is going to pick them up for me. In the meantime we are due to receive more baby clothes and some reusable nappies from three other friends and three large piles of reusable sanitary pads from our champion sewers.

Finally, we are due to make an appearance in a newsletter published by one of the wonderful conservancies which will be accepting our suitcases for their local communities.

Monday, 2 March 2020

The Life Balance

I know from experience that when we stay in one of the Lodges, either at Loisaba or the Masai Mara, we are waited on hand and foot. I feel slightly embarrassed about this and like to make friends with the staff and lighten their load by at least keeping my room tidy. The lodges and their surrounding conservancies employ lots of people not only in the kitchen and dining room but also as cleaners, gardeners at the lodge, or engineers in the garage. There's the anti-poaching team and all the people who look after the domestic animals, camels and cattle, as well as overseeing the wildlife. Of these, it is probably the guides who have the highest profile and their master's degree level of understanding the habits of the wild animals is outstanding.

Places like Loisaba, employ hundreds of people, many of which work behind the scenes. Many come from communities far away which they will only visit every four months, others live in the local communities. Each one of them is likely to provide for ten or more family and distant family members, generously eeking out their wages to share with them all.

It is easy for tourists to forget or ignore the hardships faced by remote communities although they can always give a large tip to the staff or a donation to local charities. Ailsa's Suitcase allows them to do even more at little or no cost - taking an extra suitcase on their flight to be delivered to the charitable organisations that support remoted pastoralist communities. This takes those communities beyond simply existing and helps to give practical support to children going through school, particularly girls.

We provide functional clothing for outside school hours including nightwear and underwear which helps people to stay clean, and to avoid things like bed bugs. Shoes help people to avoid 'jiggers' which are parasitic insects which burrow themselves through people's skin and lay their eggs within their body. They can cause swelling, itching, and infection, and lead to amputation or even death in very bad cases. People who have them find it difficult to walk because of the extreme discomfort. Children find it hard to settle in school too when they are infested with jiggers.

PLEASE help us to get this project off the ground by taking one of our suitcases with you to Kenya. The procedure is very straightforward and we provide the appropriate paperwork.

Take a look at another lovely blog for their description of Jiggers

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Above Board

When I took my first extra suitcase to Kenya last year, I must confess that I was a little concerned about it. I should have been travelling light since I was taking an internal flight to go on safari. Not only did I have a heavy suitcase, but I also had my Mother's ashes with me, which bore a remarkable resemblance to cocaine. However, with all of the right paperwork for both, I needn't have worried at all. Everything went extremely smoothly and there were no glitches.

This time, the main beneficiary was Angelique, a lady with diabetes who has trouble getting around. 

I am aching for more suitcases to go out to Kenya to be distributed to the communities that need them most. At the moment we are being thwarted by the global threat of coronavirus and also the fact that it is the low season for Kenya. All we need is our first intrepid traveller to have the courage to take us up on our offer and to discover that it is all very simple.

Travelling light? Internal flights have a 15kg weight limit whereas most international flights allow at least twice that: Why waste a baggage allowance?

We provide the suitcase and its contents plus the relevant, simple, paperwork. All a traveller needs to do is:
  •  Check through the suitcase to make sure they are happy with its contents
  •  Take the suitcase to their check-in desk
  •  Collect the suitcase at baggage reclaim in Nairobi
  •  Hand the suitcase to a representative from Elewana Tour Company
Elewana will hand the suitcase over to their sister charity, Land and Life Foundation, who will ensure that the suitcase and its contents are distributed to remote communities in Kenya.

If you want to help the ordinary people of Kenya while you have an extraordinary experience on safari then please get in touch. There is nothing to it apart from a little effort and a lot of love!

Luxury lodge accommodation
Help to give something back to remote communities

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Oh Pants!

We will accept pants! 

In some areas of Kenya there is a cultural reluctance to handle women's pants - connected with the practice of FGM, which although outlawed by the Government, is still prevalent. Accordingly some charities are cautious about taking pants for local communities since they would not be welcomed. I am pleased to say that pants will be happily accepted in at least one of the communities that we are going to help, and even more pleased to be able to say that FGM has been replaced with a far more positive 'coming of age' ceremony for young women. This is thanks in no small part to the work of my good friend Ambrose Letoluia, and also a wonderful charity called SAFE (see more at: www.SAFE Kenya). 

Whatever our own views on this subject, it is one that must be handled sensitively if it is to be eradicated. It is no good shouting 'no' or saying 'it's their culture, you'll never stop it." The fact is that it is being abandoned in many places with the help of tactful, diplomatic people. This little girl, for example, will escape the practice because of the work that has been done on the ground in the communities. 

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Charity Starts at Home

We often hear people say that 'charity begins at home'. With low wages, zero-hours contracts, and sustained austerity in the UK, there is no doubt that many people are struggling to make ends meet - the massive rise in the number of food banks is further evidence of this.

This is why we have tried to make Ailsa's Suitcase as cheap and cheerful as we can. We don't take monetary donations (we're not registered as a charity anyway) but we accept donations of suitcases and useful supplies, connecting then with travellers to Kenya who can hand then straight over to The Land and Life Foundation whose sister company is already travelling to the remote areas that we want to help. All we need from people is love and effort - no money required.

Whilst some sections of society in Africa are doing well and the middle-class is growing, people who live in remote communities struggle to survive. There is no welfare system and little back up when times get especially hard through drought, floods, and civil unrest. Yet, the people we have met are rich in tradition and rich in culture. Men and women in work tend to support at least another ten relatives, whilst others work hard at looking after their cattle and goats. Nevertheless many people struggle to pay for the food that they need and struggle to pay for medicine. Clothing comes way down any list. Many children have no more than the clothes that they stand up in.

We're not interested in money, politics, or ego - we just want to help.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Menstruation - is a very long word

If you think menstruation is taboo in this country … blue liquid in all of the panty-pad adverts on the TV! - then it is even more so in Kenya. Girls often stay off school when they are having their period - for lack of pads or even knickers. That's four or five valuable school days out of every month.

No-one wants to litter remote places with more disposable tampons and pads. However fabric reusable sanitary pads have the advantage of being durable, washable, and discreet.

We are gathering sewers who are forming do-it-yourself production lines in making reusable pads. We're also coming up with our own practical pattern which will appear on the website. In the meantime I am negotiating for toweling in Africa so that we can save weight when sending the pads over by plane.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Ailsa's Suitcase - Unpacking our progress

Late last year, David and I were undertaking Swahili lessons with Leanne who runs a charity in Kisumu in Kenya. When she returned to Kenya we sent her home with two extra suitcases full of clothes for the local community.

We've always loved Kenya, for it's wildlife and its wilderness, but not really had much to do with the local communities. Over the years, as we have made friends, we have become more aware of the great divide that separates rich, middle class, and really poor in Kenya. Whilst the traditional life of people living in remote communities is extremely rich, life is also bloody tough, with everything beyond the most basic food and water, out of the reach of most families. As always, the key to escaping extreme poverty is education and yet families cannot afford to send their children to school, never mind provide them with suitable clothing. As Leanne said to us, some people can't even afford an aspirin if they are ill.

Many would argue that these sort of problems have beset remote areas of Kenya for a long time and that hand ups are better than hand downs. Nevertheless, the gains made by pastoralist communities can easily be blown away by extreme drought, flooding, disease and tribal invasion. There is no benefit system in Kenya that can cover these sorts of events.

We needed to come up with a cheap and cheerful way of getting supplies of clothing and educational materials to the charities which directly help remote communities, especially women and children. Earlier we had sent three complete football kits via a freight company to Loisaba in Laikipia. Despite the kits being donated freely, the cost of the freight was prohibitive and we knew that we couldn't repeat this on a regular basis - especially when that money could be spent instead on more supplies.

As we explored the idea of sending more suitcases to Kenya, we learned that it was even more straightforward than we had thought it would be. As long as we had a supply of second hand suitcases, we could accept donations of clothes that were new or secondhand, along with supplies of educational equipment. At the other end the Elewana Collection, owners of a dozen or more lodges, and their associated charity The Land and Life Foundation, agreed to collect the suitcases from the international airport in Nairobi, and to distribute them to the remote communities around all of their lodges. This was an unbelievable step forward.

We called the project Ailsa's Suitcase after we received an incredible donation of her lovely clothes  from her husband and yet the spirit of generosity came directly from my Mum, Patricia, who loved Africa too.

From the outset we received some lovely donations of clothing - everything from maternity wear to baby clothes to older children's clothing. People started to make things too - pillow cases dresses and reusable sanitary pads. Pens, pencil and pants!

A neighbour created a website for us and gave his time and skills for free.

ALL WE NEED NOW IS PASSENGERS TO TAKE THE FIRST SUITCASES TO KENYA - we provide everything. All a traveller needs to do is to examine the contents, take the suitcase to check-in and then collect it at baggage reclaim in Nairobi and hand it over to an Elewana Driver. Almost effortless.

Holding our Breath

Who would have thought that within a few short months of creating Ailsa's Suitcase we would be entirely on hold? All of the clothes that...