Today was our third full day in Kenya. We visited two farms and an arts center, and met a former Israeli diplomat who became a Kenyan pop star. At first glance, agriculture, art and an Israeli-diplomat-turned-Kenyan-pop-star don’t seem to have much in common, but the thread that ran through the day was passion and empowerment.
Both themes were apparent at the farms we visited alongside the Kenarava Group. Kenarava was founded by a group of Kenyan youth who traveled to Israel to learn about sustainable farming techniques. They have since dedicated their careers to training other Kenyan youth to farm sustainably. We met with Peter Gitau, who traveled to Israel and is an agribusiness champion in Kenya, promoting sustainable farming among women and youth. As Peter shared, he is teaching women and youth that “there is money in the soil.” Rather than leave their communities to search for work in the city, they can build sustainable futures in their own backyards by utilizing innovative farming techniques to grow crops such as tomatoes, zucchini and peanuts. Before visiting Israel, Peter said that he and his Kenarava colleagues relied on rainwater for farming, which made agriculture a weather-dependent occupation. Thanks to the techniques they learned in Israel, Kenarava is empowering youth to use drip irrigation techniques that are not dependent on weather. Through the sharing of knowledge, they are transforming Kenyan communities.
Passion and empowerment were also apparent at the GoDown Arts Centre. GoDown was founded in 2003 as a community for visual artists; it brings together seven organizations that collectively provide space to visual artists, performance space for musicians, a computer center with computer courses, classes in entrepreneurship, community arts festivals and cultural excursions for local schools. As many as 350 people walk through the GoDown Arts Centre each day!
As someone who has loved paintings, music and theater since childhood, I was amazed by the array of services provided by the centre and how they work with their local community. The passion of the women running the center was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Seeing strong, talented women actively working to change their community from the inside out, while also helping others live their dreams, is something I will never forget.
Passion and empowerment were also present in our meeting with our final special guest. Gilad Millo was a former deputy ambassador for Israel who came to Kenya in 1996, fell in love with the country and returned in 2008 as a permanent resident. His passion for music led him to trade his career in diplomacy for music and a microphone. He has won two All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA) and had numerous No. 1 hits in Kenya. Gilad spoke passionately about his love for Kenya and Israel and how his dual identities co-exist. He also spoke of the ways in which he is building relationships between Kenya and Israel and using his fame for positive change. Gilad performed one of his songs for us, singing about how we are all the same on the inside and all our souls dance to the same music. He reminded us to have humility and compassion and to go share that message with others.
As we continue to experience new things on this trip, I hope we can continue to retain these lessons of empowerment, passion, humility and compassion to make the world a better, more united place.
Jennifer Atlas is the director of strategy and special projects for Franciscan Children’s, a specialty hospital for children with special health care needs. She previously worked at Philadelphia’s largest Latino social service agency, first through the AmeriCorps VISTA program and then as a manager of primary care projects. She used her fluency in Spanish to launch a federally qualified health center for the local community. Jennifer received her master’s degree in health policy and management from the Harvard School of Public Health. Additionally, Jennifer has participated in service activities with local senior centers and homeless shelters, organized volunteers for tax clinics for migrant farmworkers, created language interchange programs for Spanish-speaking immigrants, taught ESL and served as a Spanish interpreter on a medical mission to Peru.