Thoughts from Margi Ness, IPI-US Board Chair, on her October 2013 trip to IPI PDF Print E-mail

December 2013

Dear Friends of IPI,

"It always seems impossible until it is done." -Nelson Mandela

I returned in October from a six-week trip to Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  It was an amazing time with each country bringing unforeseen adventures. What I want to share here is the story of my time my time in Kenya, which is why the trip happened in the first place.

As chair of International Peace Initiatives’ (IPI) U.S. board of directors, I was given the opportunity to visit Kenya to see IPI’s work up close and personal.  I was excited to see the progress IPI has made since 2005 when I was there for the groundbreaking of the Kithoka Amani Community Home (KACH).  Kithoka is a small village outside of Meru, Kenya.  Amani means peace.  KACH is home to over twenty vulnerable or orphaned children and is also the base for many of IPI’s other activities.

I realized when I got there that, despite my long-term volunteering with IPI, I hadn’t fully grasped its uniqueness nor the paradigm shift created by IPI’s founder and director, Dr. Karambu Ringera..  In the U.S., the government provides and/or coordinates services for those in greatest need.   We may disagree on the amount or quality of those services but, believe me, they are better than nothing, which is what most African governments can do…nada, zip, zero.  Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) provide some needed assistance, but very few of them are Kenyan/African founded and led; most are not self-sustaining; and rarely are cultural changes made that will actually prevent the cycle of poverty and violence.  I came home from my visit to Kenya in 2005 quite depressed by the horrible conditions for women and children (men had it bad too, but they were also the perpetrators of so much bad that it was hard to be empathic toward them).  I was glad to be there for the ground breaking of KACH.  With 30% of the children in the area orphaned, the Home would meet a critical need…but it wasn’t going to change the community overall.  How could it?

Well, I now see how.  Karambu knew that an orphanage was a place to start addressing the problems of an unhealthy community but, unless other problems were also addressed, it was only a bandage and the underlying sores would continue to fester.  That’s why Karambu insisted that the Home be a Community Home, not an orphanage.

There’s more.

Dr. Karambu says to her fellow Kenyans, “We are the ones we have been waiting for."

I went with Karambu to a Kenyan-only investment club meeting.  The loudest cheers came when the speaker talked about club members succeeding without mizungo (white) help.  Africans are desperate to help themselves, and Karambu has conceived and implemented a model that does just that.  IPI focuses on a very small locale, and includes the community in identifying and solving their problems using the tools of education, empowerment, and enterprise.

Education – IPI develops skills and confidence to help community members succeed

  • IPI keeps young people in primary and secondary schools both for children living at KACH and those able to live at home with family assistance for school expenses and to make up for the loss of minimal, but crucial, income children not in school could bring their families.
  • IPI works with schools by providing teacher training, school equipment, and motivational talks
  • IPI’s International College Scholars Program (ICSP) supports exceptional students in college.  The first graduates are forming an IPI Alumni Association to develop ways to give back to the community and IPI
  • IPI provides direct training in various trades and is developing an extension of ICSP for trade schools
  • IPI is building an Eco-Retreat which will offer a variety of peace building skills and other community training and will host the Women’s Grassroots Peace Congress

Empowerment - IPI inspires those who have been beaten by hopelessness and marginalization to believe they can be happy, successful citizens and to then act on that!

  • KACH offers a safe place for community members to gather and help one another.  I saw a group of women who have developed their own micro-finance program.  They meet every Sunday, discuss problems, pool resources to help those most in need and offer moral support.
  • IPI sponsors the Women’s Grassroots Peace Congress. I attended the first one in 2005, with Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter, Ela (what a gentle, self-effacing woman).  In 2008 the keynote speaker was Desmond Tutu’s daughter Naomi – but at both Congresses the focus was on the grassroots women, not the “stars”.
  • Training on HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, and other cultural traditions that perpetuate the problems will provide people with the knowledge needed  to begin making system changes

Enterprise - IPI initiated a Network of Enterprise called BOLD (Bettering Our Lives by Design) to develop entrepreneurial skills for the community. Existing projects include:

  • Beads4Peace – jewelry making
  • Weaving
  • Farming (pigs, chickens, goats, fruits, and veggies)
  • Brick-making
  • Catering
  • Tailoring
  • Tie-dying

Self-Sustaining Projects - Profits from some BOLD projects help support IPI operations as well as providing income for the entrepreneurs.  Additionally, IPI has developed several entrepreneurial projects that will sustain IPI for the long haul.

  • Amani Adventures and Holidays – provides cultural safaris and tours in Kenya, which can include volunteering or just visiting KACH
  • Amani Guest House – lodging 7 minutes from the Nairobi airport with airport pick-up and meals – I was happy to have this very affordable, comfy “home” the night before departing, knowing my transportation was arranged and I’d get a great meal!
  • Eco-Resort – This is being built on property a 5-minute walk from KACH.  Instead of staying on the top floor of KACH, where I was housed, future visitors and volunteers can stay at the Eco-Resort.  Trainings and conferences will be held here, there will be an internet café for guests and the community, and there will be a workshop with a gift shop.
  • Bio-fuel and solar – Cow manure is composted at KACH and used for cooking fuel.  Solar panels are in place to provide electricity.

Does All This Work?

Yes!  When the Amani Community Home opened in 2008, IPI-US donors provided 100% support. In 2013, nearly 50% of the expenses were raised through these projects.  IPI leaders seek to raise this figure to 80% by the end of 2014 -- and they are on track to do it.  Skansen Construction, which built the first home, has committed to build four more and land has been purchased for the second one.  The same model will be used – a model that can be replicated in other developing countries.

People in Kithoka aren’t just imagining a better future—they are building it.

I wrote this letter to my friends because I knew many of them give to good causes – and I wanted to give them an opportunity to make a contribution that will change lives.  Since you have read this, I hope that you, too, will want to contribute to this amazing organization. Here are three suggested ways to contribute:

1.  $2500 - A full sponsorship of a child: This provides the clothing, food, shelter, and solid educational needs of a child living in the Amani Home for a year.  These children are so well loved and cared for.  The staff is simply terrific.  Sponsors receive a letter and photograph at least twice a year, and the on-going relationship is a gift to the child - and to you!

2.  $500 - An educational sponsorship of a child: This pays for the educational needs of a school aged child for a year.

3.  A contribution of any amount will help with the most pressing needs - or you can designate that your funds support any other IPI project of your choice.

You can donate safely via Pay Pal on our website donation page here:

http://ipeacei.org/get-involved/donate.html

OR contribute by mail to:

International Peace Initiatives

P.O. Box 17415

Boulder, CO 80308

Please write checks to:  International Peace Initiatives. You may specify the application of funds to one of the IPI programs in the memo section or leave blank to give to the general fund.

Asante sana (thank you very much)!

Amani,

Margi Ness

Chair, IPI-USA Board of Directors