I woke up in Nairobi, Kenya, fully rested after 13 hours on a bus to arrive there. I had been living in Tanzania doing aid work, and was eager for a long weekend in a new country. However, with tourism being one of the leading economic sectors in East Africa, it's always been important to me to participate responsibly. During my time in Nairobi, I made sure to only put as much of my money towards organizations and outings that would directly (and positively) impact local communities.
Kazuri Bead Factory
The mission of the factory is to provide and sustain employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society. I was able to take a tour of the factory and learned how their jewelry was created. They make the clay on site, and then there are multiple stations. The first is where women shape the clay, each by hand with little to no molding or shaping tools, and leave them to dry for days, sometimes weeks depending on how large the item is. Next, they are each painted individually by hand and put over a fire for about 12 hours, before they are repainting and put back in the fire. The final step is to string them into beautiful bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and adorable animal figurines. They even make pottery, but that's an even longer process. Of course by the end of the tour I was obsessed, and I was able to finish all of my souvenier shopping.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
On the day of my visit, it was incredibly muddy and rainy, but once I saw the elephants it made it all worth it. I arrived in time for their feeding, where their keepers lead them out into a ring. We watched along with many other people as the elephants devoured their bottles before running around and playing. They came bounding over to us, let us pet them, and one even attempted to pull my hood off of my head, resulting in him spraying me with mud and water. I was covered and soaked, but couldn't stop myself from smiling.
Typically, I am very skeptical I am about tourist attractions like these and how the animals are hurt from this much interaction with humans. However, this organization is one of the good ones. After a certain age the elephants don't participate in these feeding viewings, and are reintroduced to the wild, but it's a long and hard process and a lot of times babies are rejected by other herds. The Wildlife Trust rescues them from all over the country, and works hard to promote anti-poaching and education on the effects it has on these animals.
While "slum tourism" is controversial, I think there is something about it that can be important and special, both to tourists and locals, as long as this is done the right way. My guide for the outing was born and raised in Kibera. He led us through narrow walkways, and I spent most of my time watching my steps as to avoid sewage, mud, and trash. As I slid my way down hills, dodging people, and waving hello to the children yelling, "mzungu how are you!" in a chorus of giggles, Joshua told us all about his home. Kibera is located right in the city of Nairobi, home to over 1 million residents, making up one fourth of Kenya's entire population. It's the largest slum in Kenya, and the second in the entire continent of Africa. polluted and trash-filled water, splashing one another and laughing.
I continued along until reaching the office of the Kibera Community Empowerment Organization, where my guide informed me of all KCEO does. KCEO runs a recycling program, where residents can go out and collect plastic and be brought to them to sell, where they have a machine that crushes the plastic and creates building materials. He also showed me a binder explaining every topic you can think of, from anti-corruption to sex education to personal hygiene. These are taught in a youth behavioral change program. He is one of the co-founders of KCEO and it was moving to see his passion. He has been able to set up a local organization that was making a real difference in his community. His story was inspiring and gave me a sense of hope. If he could make such a change, so could others.
Written by: Carolyn Cresci
Currently based in Peru, Carolyn is originally from Long Island, NY.
She's been doing aid work for various non-profit organizations
around the world for the past 3 years.
Photo Credits: Carolyn Cresci