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.

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