African Adventure with a Purpose

On October 2nd, Frances Tieulie, Suzanne Watts and I left for Eastern Africa. Our first stop was Nairobi, Kenya where we completed a 5 day trek to the top of Mount Kenya. This is Africa’s 2nd highest peek after Mount Kilimanjaro, which I experienced in 2008! Mt Kenya was a fantastic trek, despite the torrential afternoon/evening rains, broken tents and insufficient sleeping gear. Brrr. If we were not hiking, we were scrambling to keep dry, moving camp, trying to keep warm and attempting to sleep. But at sub zero temperatures and damp gear, this was tough! It definitely brought us to our limits. But we did it. The summit was glorious. At almost 17,000 feet (4,985 meters) the air was thin and the emotions were high. Unfortunately, I have no pictures after day 1.5 as our brilliant idea of taking along a solar powered iPhone charger was only brilliant if there was sun! (Which there was in the mornings/early afternoon, but never in the late afternoon/evening when we were actually at camp.

After the trek, we traveled back to Nairobi where we had a morning safari in the Nairobi National Park and then a visit to see ‘our babies’. We sponsor orphaned elephants and rhinos through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and loved seeing and interacting with them. Ken, my mom and I sponsor, Kibo, Kainuk and Naipoki. Fran sponsors, Maxwell, a 6 year old blind rhino who will be at the trust his whole life and Suzanne also sponsors Naipoki. All are doing so well and the elephants will be reintroduced to the wild in the next few years.

After these more touristy adventures, we headed to Kafakumba, Ndola, Zambia to teach a group of women some skills that will help them earn an income for themselves and their families. The subject was beeswax candles and beeswax lip/body balm. Historically in that region, women are dependent on their husbands who are often physically abusive and spend their money on alcohol and prostitutes. This leaves women powerless and often at risk of AIDS. In fact, in Ndola, a reported 33% of the population is HIV positive. This number is likely much higher as generally it’s only pregnant women who get tested.

In addition to the skills to make the candles and lip/body balm, we brought over about 50 metal molds to seed the program, loads of wicks, 100 .3 oz tins for the first batch of lip-balm, about 100 tins for the body balm and other sundry items needed to launch this program. (The lip-balm can also be packaged in larger containers to be used for calluses on elbows, feet, etc.) We also raised enough money to purchase ovens and restaurant grade steam tables to melt large quantities of wax. A special thanks goes to Frances’ family and clients at her studio, Sculpture Inc, in Burnaby, BC for their generous contributions.

We chose these projects as Kafakumba’s large honey operation harvested 12 metric ton of honey in July which creates about 1 ton of wax. There is also a built in market for beeswax candles in the catholic churches. In their bylaws, candles must be beeswax due to their non-drip, non-smoking and long burning qualities.

In addition to bringing the skills and supplies, we also inspired entrepreneurship. Our vision was that the ladies of Kafakumba will use this knowledge as a springboard to better their lives and the lives of their families. We taught them about packaging and distribution channels, salesmanship, marketing and finance, and business planning, so their candle and lip-balm businesses can thrive.

One of the reasons we chose the lip/body balm as a product to create was that we also wanted to foster an environment of hygiene and beauty. One of the biggest problems in Africa is infidelity with prostitutes. John Enright, who has lived in east Africa his entire life, suggested that if we can show the women some basic beauty and hygiene skills, then perhaps the men will choose to stay home with them rather than venturing out to those that appear more clean and primped. (This is very ironic, but these are the facts shared with us by a local.) We in no way attempted to encourage them ‘make themselves up,’ but rather just use basic and sustainable self care so that spirits are lifted and self esteem is fostered.

We had a wonderful time with the ladies and identified leaders who will take the torch and run with it. Thank you to Patricia and Cassie for taking on Quality Control & Production, to Fosi and Patricia for leading the Sales & Marketing program, and to Theresa for heading up Packaging. You will make a difference in the lives of many!

In the days before and after the sessions with the ladies from Kafakumba, we had the opportunity to explore the area and some of the other programs that Kafakumba is making possible. Cows from Kafakumba help fund and feed 900 kids a day at the Welele Feeding Center and also helps fund the De Gama School for the Disabled. We had the opportunity to visit both facilities where we were blessed with an African welcome dance by a group of women and also with love and enthusiasm from hundreds of kids. These are mostly orphans who come from the nearby village for their one meal a day. On the weekends, they have to fend for themselves for the most part. So sad. But thank God for the good people who are out making a difference in the lives of these kids. They all line up, wash their hands, say a prayer of thanks, then sit across from their ‘plate partner’, patiently wait for everyone to be served, and then they dig in. No silverware of course.

After our incredible time in Africa, Frances and I went to Paris for a weekend of exploring and brushing up on our French. It was truly a culture shock after all we had seen in Africa. But the important thing for us to remember is that we can’t get upset by the vast differences in cultures. This will just lead to frustration and discouragement. But what we can do, is GO where we feel the spirit is leading us, DO what we feel the spirit is calling us to do and ENJOY the many blessings that are given to us in the process. I think this is GUS’s (God/Universe/Spirit) way.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.