WCI in Nairobi

Nairobi, October 14, 2012

The flight on Emirates Airlines evolved as a cross between adult day care and life support:  attentive cheerful and good looking attendants, gourmet meal packaged so obsessively that managing the wrappers became a use-of-space issue, an overwhelming array of unsatisfying entertainment options – and the inevitable ennui and fatigue of sleepless containment for 13 hours in a pressurized cabin.

En-route to Nairobi, we had a three-hour stopover in Dubai, the least intuitively laid out airport I’ve been through. At 8am, the terminal was awash with travelers consuming mass quantities of high-end consumer goods. Right along with electronics stores and couture fashion shops were McD’s BK, Cinnabon, Starbucks and Bloomingdales. There’s just no containing viral corporate America.

In Nairobi, it’s the time of the “short rains.” Weather is cool, downpours a frequent event. All the frangipani and flame trees are in glorious bloom – burst of startling purple and effervescent orange even in unlikely places. The city suffers frightful rush-hour gridlock; the rain adds additional accidents to the mix. The “Road Conditions” update on one radio station begins with the sound of a collision.

We’ve been treated to a very soft landing by my friend Maina and his wife Adeline and their lovely eight-month old daughter, Abigail, joyful, feisty girl who finds crawling un-amusing and would like to be independently upright and mobile soonest.

We met with our fabulous manager, Stiffin, truly the most competent, compassionate and imaginative man I have worked with in Africa.

Our first meeting on Sunday with the women at Kariua was a spectacular inspiration. Any fears we had about the “fit” of the women’s center program here were quickly banished. More than 150 women turned out with many children in tow. They came not just from Kariua but also from the adjoining neighborhoods. Word had gotten around.

We had a modest first-day agenda:  introductions all around with an explanation of our registration process, our plan for photo ID badges and the agreement to democratically select a name of the center – most suggestions related to hope and faith. The women wanted to keep going and so we did for three hours. In particular, they were keen to know when we would start training. Tricky question in view of our modest donations relative to our overall budget. Unwilling to give my worry on this front any quarter, I saw that we needed to understand how they wanted the various training structured  (that is, their actual availability given their obligations as moms and day workers)

We formed up four committees of six women each  – all eager to weigh in on the resources we plan to offer. No surprise: they wanted to focus first on earning income, building businesses.

We saw cheerful excitement grow among them. They badly wanted a Center with all that WCI had to offer. I badly want to deliver it to them.

We met on Monday with our partners Catherine Wanjohi and Mukami Mwangi of Life Bloom Services International. The ideas of how we can make this Center work flew fast and furiously. We are incredibly lucky to have them as allies able to bring to bear so many local human resources as well as their accumulated wisdom working with marginalized women, particularly sex workers.

In only two days of work we already see the glow of right time, place and people for a durable success. If fact, we’re almost giddy to be in the midst of this incredible surge of hope and determination to forge a new future for the Kariua family – the word they use to describe themselves.

WCI needs a minimum of $25,000 to maintain this rare and astonishing momentum. We’ve got to open the facility, pay our dedicated staff and trainers, buy textbooks and instructional materials…the list goes on. We’re ready to move from planning to doing. We will not disappoint these amazing women.

We have set in motion what I believe will be one of the most compelling community transformations that most of us are likely to see in our lifetimes. I’m counting on the people I know to give this baby wings with generous donations – soonest.

Much more to come.

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