I promised that after I gushed about Namibia (which is one of the most amazing places on the planet, in case you didn’t get that impression from my recent entries), I would talk a little about Kenya. I thought that I would start by talking about one of the non-profit groups that the Association is thinking of supporting.
Back in October, we had a Welcome Back Potluck Tea at the home of the Association’s Honorary Chairperson. Considering that her embassy provides a fairly standard house, it’s actually quite lovely, as she and her family have decorated it with their own impressive art collection. Everyone (who isn’t lazy and named Typ0) brought mouthwatering goodies sure to tempt even the most ardent of dieters. From brownies and cupcakes to empanadas and wada, there was something there to please every palate. Luckily for me, I was just starting South Beach and had a vast selection of water to choose from. (Not that I’m bitter.)
While the company was tolerable, as always, everyone in attendance agreed that the highlight of the afternoon were the "Ghetto Girls," an acrobatic troupe from the Sarakasi Trust who wowed the audience with their talent and skills. Imagine having Cirque de Soleil perform for your intimate party of 50 and that should give you an idea of the fabulousness of their act.
After seeing these girls perform, there was only one topic of discussion for the remainder of our tea – how to help support their cause. Oh, and buying them sports bras because they *really* needed them. It’s taken just over a month, but on Monday, a group of ladies headed over to their headquarters to see first hand what the organization is about and how we could help.
Sarakasi means acrobatics/circus in Kiswahili. The Sarakasi Trust, which was established locally in 2001, aims to nurture raw talent in the performing arts in children from disadvantaged backgrounds and neighborhoods. The objectives of the Trust are to promote public awareness, appreciation, and access to acrobatics, music, dance, physical theatre, and visual arts. Simply put, as the director told us on Monday, Sarakasi “is a positive way to show Kenya to the world.”
The students are not simply the insanely talented girls we saw last month. At its roots, the Trust goes into the slums and teaches acrobatics and dancing to disadvantaged kids. The people who teach these classes are graduates of the program and, more importantly, come from the same areas where they are now teaching. They know what it is like to live and survive in the Nairobi slums. The truly talented and gifted artists who emerge from these classes are the ones who form groups and attend set rehearsals at Sarakasi’s headquarters at “Go Down” in the Industrial Area.
But the Trust doesn't stop at simply honing the innate artistic skills of their students. They also teach them life skills including health and wellness, finance and money management, legal issues, and cultural transitions. These lessons will come in handy for many of the boys and girls supported by the Sarakasi Trust - their world-class skills have taken previous students around the world from the Netherlands to China.
One way they raise money is to have their groups come out and do shows like the one we enjoyed in October. In addition to putting on a good show and more than earning their fees, these shows also serve as free publicity. For example, from the demonstration they put on for us, we’ve advertised for them in our newsletter, I’m blogging about them, and several people are talking to them about performances at their own parties.
During our visit they also told us about new programs they were instituting including a “girl’s empowerment program” and perhaps even a daycare for those artists with young children at home.
What struck me the most about the first time I saw the Ghetto Girls perform was reinforced when we visited this week – everyone seemed sincerely happy. I have visited other projects before where the people who worked there and the people these projects were helping seemed unhappy, like they didn’t want to be there with that group of people. Sarakasi was different – people weren’t just smiling for our benefit, they were laughing and seemed legitimately happy to be there. I don’t know if I am explaining the feeling I received from them well enough but being there made me happy and I left with a smile a mile wide.
Sarakasi, of course, is only one story. With more than a million people living in areas like Kabete, there are many worthy causes and charities in Nairobi and many people who need assistance – not just money, but teachers, nurses, doctors, and capable people willing to help. But I chose to tell you about Sarakasi because it is important to remember the one thing that these talented acrobats, dancers, and artists have no shortage of – hope.