These beautiful Holiday Star ornaments are handmade by The Kianga Project, which represents over 180+ women and men in HIV support groups throughout Nairobi Kenya.
These support groups were underway alongside of a local church before many Baylor students arrived throughout the past last 8 years. Their numbers have grown to 180 from its early inception of a handful. The best part of this story? The support continues today, on a level that is sustained locally. Families are sending their children to school, emergency funds have been created, and lives continue to have hope in a slum environment that faces immense struggle.
Remember, this story is before RED and ONE, before the provocative stigma of having HIV is lessened through media attention and sex education. In Kenya, and in many other countries throughout Africa the virus did not have the education and coverage that it does today. It was a time when church members would go for checkups and tests without sharing with close friends and family, as not to alarm them of what they might learn.
Positive or Negative? With one test, life would drastically change. It was a matter of life or death.
(Side note: it is extremely rare to have a "ministry" that deals with public health issues, in Kenya or here in the states.)
Today, HIV education and prevention continues to be in the world news. It has reached a tipping point over the last several decades. Celebrities like Bono have made it their life mission to eradicate the virus.
Conversations have turned into big socially conscious brands, like TOMS, which is centered on social justice giving consumers a way to spend with a purpose.
My point? Today is an extremely different environment than the time Kianga was birthed.
There have been many of us who have spent extended periods of time, money, and expertise along side "the project". Yet none of it would be possible without one dear visionary friend named Ben Carrol. Ben saw an opportunity to enhance the foundation that was laid by the church. His family supported his conviction to do something. He brought anything that he could carry back to the U.S.
By this point in 2006, I had already been to Kenya, and was finishing up producing a CD (my Kenyan catalyst). I was organizing my first big event to raise money and bring every person/organization together for one night that celebrated projects bigger than ourselves. Of course, I invited Ben along.
In a hallway of perfect NGO banners and amazing displays, Ben stood strong with his table of jewelry and carved animals. Amidst the noise and applause of the night, I would continue to look over at Ben, and the see the simplicity of his conviction.
Standing at 6'4" he would talk to sorority girls and tell them what and who they were supporting. Ben had made a science project board with red and black marker.
He printed out photos that told these women's stories. He had taken what the women had given him to sell and made the best of it.
Year after year, more of us would get involved. Sarah Satterlee, a design major, jumped in full force. She was the wave of passion that this project desperately needed, even giving the project a name.
Kianga | A burst of light after the storm.
The name was so fitting, describing the story of these women. They had hope, amidst extreme conditions and diagnosis.
Sarah is a critical thinker and "get it done" type of woman. She is fiercely loyal and committed to the people and projects that matter. In short, you want her on your team. She helped recruit other friends Jonathan and Wade, who became the other pillars of "structure and support".
The momentum built and departments on campus became involved. The Francis bracelet became "the lanyard" go get inside the Poverty Summit on campus. When Kenneth Starr became President, he knew of Kianga by the bracelets. He would share with me one afternoon "I need more, bring me more bracelets to my door so I can give them out". A task that I happily fulfilled.
Throughout this entire story Ben has been a traveling jewelry salesman, wherever someone would allow the team the ability to sell. (We even had our car broken into in Kasas City- that was a long drive back home to Texas) He has lived out of his car, camped alongside of the road, all the while traveling from show to show across Texas.
Recently, a mentor asked. "How can we sow and plant our money into something that lasts?"
This question needs a whole different post...However these Christmas Star Ornaments are a start on this Cyber Monday and World Aids Day.
Kianga continues at a Kenyan pace. There is no major hype team, nor is there fashion bloggers who put the bracelets on to raise awareness. It could have gone that direction, that could have been the way that we defined success. But for Kianga because it remains small, it remains true.
Where is Ben you might ask? He is in Kenya, wearing the bracelets that have become apart of who he is today. He is working on a variety of environmental projects, but he (from what I can tell) is happy and fulfilled.
Ben's passion and conviction had a ripple effect on lives here in the states and in Kenya. Lives have been transformed and shaped because he brought us into a story, which became part of our own story.
Every time you buy, you are not just buying a product...you are stepping into a story...that continues to evolve.
Learn more about Kianga here |