Two weeks ago I traveled to Africa with Carl and his Dad (Carl Sr.) to visit the Neema Project. Neema is a non-profit organization that provides skills training, counseling, and housing for vulnerable young women in Kitale, Kenya.
We got connected to the Neema Project through my wife Lindsay, who is a member of Neema’s board of directors. Think Brownstone provides the funds needed to run Neema’s residential program, available to the young women at Neema whose situations at home are the most desperate. These girls are provided with a safe home environment, clean water, food, and medical care—so they can get the most out of Neema’s training program.
Our visit with the young women and staff at Neema was amazing and unforgettable. We got to meet each one of the “Neema girls.” Faith left a special impression on me—she is so confident and strong. Many of the girls have a child and we got to spend time playing with them too. They are so precious and happy.
We also got to spend lots of time with the Neema staff. Anne, Mark, Joyce and Mama Janet have been part of Neema since the beginning and they are incredible people. So smart and caring and compassionate—the girls are in very good hands.
We were honored to teach a class to all of the girls about personal finance and customer service, even though it was a challenge! We came prepared with some materials but the language barrier was evident and even the simplified words and concepts we presented were sometimes hard for the girls to understand. Anne was a big help, translating for us when needed and helping us get the girls engaged with the content.
We also held a Think Session with the Neema staff to help them articulate their vision for the future of the Neema Project. That vision is inspiring—they see more Neema projects in other locations! Over the next several weeks, each of the Neema leaders is going to write down their own “vision story” for the Neema Project and then they will come together again in January to read their stories aloud and discover ideas that are common among the staff team.
We got to visit Zeddy’s house which is just a short walk from the Neema school; a tiny two-room mud hut. She sleeps with her son Boutrous on a mat on a dirt floor, under a straw roof that needs repair. This was hard for me to see and comprehend. Most of the Neema girls’ homes are like this.
Later we visited Leah’s house, which is also a short walk from Neema. Earlier this year Leah went missing from Neema and the staff worked very hard to find her, checking with her friends and family for several weeks. When they found her, she was in dangerously bad shape. A young man had promised to marry her and then abandoned her when she got pregnant. Many of the girls at Neema have been through a similar experience. Leah and her new baby are now back living with Leah’s mother, and they are doing much better.
Next was Ruth’s house, where she lives with her grandmother. Ruth walks 45 minutes to and from the Neema project every day. We were able to help Ruth’s family purchase wood for the construction of a new roof for their home—we were expecting to also help build the new roof, but when we arrived at Ruth’s we were told that they decided to build a new house instead (since her house was in such bad repair).
We watched as a local Kenyan foreman and a few other neighborhood friends cut down two trees and split the trunks into planks that would become the posts for the walls of the house—all with just a machete. For the next several hours we dug holes for the posts—with just digging bars, no shovels!
Passing by Ruth’s house on their way home from school, the children of the village were fascinated by the “mizungas” (white people) and we soon had quite an audience. I had so much fun taking pictures with the kids—they were so thrilled to see their faces on the screen!
As we were leaving Ruth’s house, Carl Sr. spotted a few more kids down the road whom we hadn’t met yet. He insisted on walking over to give them each a piece of candy. I’m pretty sure every kid in the village got a piece of candy from Carl Sr. that day.
We got to visit two hair salons in Kitale to get a sense for the kinds of places the Neema girls might find work once they complete the Neema program. Here’s a photo of Kristen, a recent Neema graduate, with her current employer.
We were able to sit in on assessment interviews for young women who are applying to enter the Neema Project in January, and heard some amazing stories. As word about the Neema Project spreads throughout the area, there are more and more applicants each year. This time, 52 girls showed up to interview for just 20 open spots. There is obviously such a great need for this program!
It was great for Carl and I to see first-hand the difference that the Neema Project is making in the lives of these young women. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m happy that Think Brownstone can play a role. You can learn more about the Neema Project here. And you can see more photos and stories from our trip on Instagram here and here.