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Called to Venture

Called to Venture

Golden hoops dangle from my ears. I enjoy the weight of heavy earrings as they swing through my hair, bumping into my face. I bought these hoops from Karama’s storefront in Evansville. But I also have another pair of golden earrings – a pair of African faces crafted of carefully bent wire and purchased in a Nairobi slum.

God has created a beautiful globe, the home of millions of individuals and thousands of cultures. The adventure of exploration calls to me, as does God’s heart for the nations. From August 14 – September 15, I lived in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya with a local pastor and his family. My friend, Lisa Corbett (Karama’s Fulfillment Manager) connected me to Philisters Mmbone (Karama’s Production Manager in Nairobi). During my time in Kenya, Philisters blessed me and my host family with a tour of Karama’s artisans in Nairobi. Two of Karama’s artisan groups live and work in Kibera Slum.

 

Approximately 60% of Nairobi’s population live on 6% of the land. These areas of intense population density and severe poverty are known as slums. Kibera is the largest slum in Africa and one of the largest in the world. Most people in Kibera rent their shacks – 12ftx12ft structures built of mud, tin, and sheet metal. Few have running water or electricity, and up to 400 people can share a single latrine or pit-toilet. Living conditions are difficult at best. The popularity of changaa, a homemade alcoholic beverage, is also problematic. Changaa’s alcoholic content is so high (and includes some methanol) that overuse can lead to blindness. Rape and abortion rates also run high. At any given time, approximately half of the women ages 16-25 will be pregnant.

 

Philisters leads us to the artisans. My host family parks our van near the street. We hop out, avoiding the puddles and trash, and follow Philisters to a gap near the back of the parking area. I duck behind the wall and find myself in a narrow, gray walkway. It criss-crosses with other paths, turning corners in a mass of sheet metal structures. Men bend over wooden frames, busy with various projects. I’m not sure what they’re making, but their hands pause for a moment as they look up at me. Their gazes filled with amusement and curiosity – it’s not every day a mzungu (white person) passes this way. I’m not sure if I want to know their only half-whispered comments. We walk a brisk couple of minutes before Philisters pauses. She gestures to several doorways. We have reached the stalls where Nicholas and his staff create beautiful, handmade jewelry. The same stalls where only months before, Philisters had found *JOY IN THE TRIALS* The jewelry is beautiful. The stalls are clean. And several men remain intent on their work. Nicholas explains his work to us. We stay only a few minutes, before Philisters takes us to visit the second artisan group.

Kibera Arts Center is also on the outskirts of the slum. It would not be safe for us to venture further in. The building for the Arts Center is new, with a freshly painted interior. *Unless the Lord Builds the House* they labor in vain that build it, and this Arts Center seems to be blessed by the Lord. It was started by a married couple, and now employs a handful of people. Some of the men have worked here for over seven years.

 

Karama places orders with the artisan groups, buying the jewelry directly from them. Though both Nicholas and Kibera Arts Center sell to local shoppers, Karama is the main buyer.

As an American, blessed with much of the material wealth that my country has to offer, I struggle to process a place like Kibera. What is it like to grow up there? To run as a child through the pathways and alleys? To raise a family in a place with so little chance of employment? What is it like to cook, shower, and use the facilities without running water or electricity? What is the emotional, mental, and physical strain of life in a slum? The realities of their life differ drastically from my own.

I am thankful for the opportunities and blessings of life in America. I am also sobered by the challenges that those who live in Kibera face every day. In some ways, the challenges aren’t that different. We all search for, purpose, love, and meaning. But I have never faced hunger, disease, or hardship like those in Kibera.

Prior to visiting Nairobi, I knew that supporting fair-trade was important. I knew the mission of Karama was worthwhile. Visiting the artisans reinforced that belief. Buying from organizations like Karama truly does make a difference. The lives of real people are affected. When we use our blessing of wealth with wisdom, we can support safe and gainful employment.

The earrings I bought from Nicholas are stylish and fun to wear. But they aren’t really made of gold. The opportunity to meet the artisans and visit Kibera, however, that is gold. The God who created this globe placed each of us exactly where He wanted – Evansville, Indiana or Kibera Slum, Nairobi, Kenya. Let’s praise Him where we are and serve Him as we are able.

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