An adventure that merged travel, sustainability and social entrepreneurship
My recent trip to Kenya was truly one of the most educational experiences of my life. Thanks to A.S.Adventure and Solid, this trip of a lifetime taught me so much and I would love to give you a glimpse into it all. There’s a lot to say, so perhaps a two-part blog is necessary. Read on!
An experience full of meaning
I headed to Kenya armed with tons of enthusiasm and a backpack full of products and outdoor clothing from Ayacucho, the in-house brand of A.S.Adventure. For those of you who don’t know, A.S. Adventure donates part of the profits garnered from the Ayacucho collection to Solid, which is an organization in the south that helps people gain some control over their lives. It works with local organizations to launch new companies that are socially and commercially viable, rendering long-term aid unnecessary. So this trip brought all my passions together nicely: traveling, adventure and social entrepreneurship – what a match made in heaven! And so, accompanied by team members from A.S.Adventure and Solid, I started the journey to Africa.
We arrived in Mombasa at 4 a.m after two flights and a stopover in Istanbul, bleary-eyed but excited. Our enthusiastic driver Teddy was waiting for us with a warm smile. As we stepped into his Toyota Land Cruiser, I was immediately charmed by this tough 4×4 (have a weakness for all things offroad, remember?).
Can’t say our drive out of Mombasa was too smooth – that city truly buzzes with life at that time! All trucks seemed to be driving into and out of Mombasa at the same time. I don’t scare too easily, but in the pitch darkness when I saw gigantic lights coming straight at me (accompanied by crazy honking and wild vehicle maneuvers), I did feel my breath get stuck in my throat a few times.
“Do you smell that?” asked Claudia, from A.S.Adventure, enthusiastically. “The scent of Africa – that roasted, smoked smell!”
A land unlike any other
Along the way, I saw women wrapped in bright clothes carrying all kinds of wares on their heads. Then, as the sun came up, I observed children in uniforms walking miles on foot towards their school gates, lots of cracked motorbikes, and generally a lot of activity. And, of course, that roasted fragrance of Africa engulfed us completely.
Somewhere down the road, I fell asleep, only to be awakened by an unfamiliar phrase: “Oh, elephants!”. Although I missed the gentle beasts this time around, it didn’t take me long to spot my first elephants as soon as we left the main road and started off-roading. Needless to say, bibi was in her element and just a little later, I even saw a giraffe’s butt!
A few dik-diks later, we arrived at our beautiful accommodation, Kivuli Camp (here’s a look at it, if you’re wondering how it was). Still having trouble envisioning this setting? Consider this: one morning, as soon as we woke us, the staff asked us if we had heard the sounds at night – apparently, lions were circling the camp!
Anyway, we quickly installed ourselves in our spacious room and showered. Even though we were tired and sleepy, we didn’t want to waste any precious time and hit the road again. Game drive first, breakfast could wait, we thought. To our surprise, however, instead of animals, we spotted an old safari truck with a large covered table. It was set up especially for us! How thoughtful. After that journey, we truly enjoyed the Kenyan coffee and Spanish omelettes. And… what stunning surroundings! The beauty was overwhelming and the silence deafening.
The arid bush, the orange earth, a dead water buffalo… I couldn’t conjure up a more typical image of Africa even if I tried. In this landscape, the mark of the drought is noticeable in everything. Man and beast long for rain, and at the time of the trip, this predictable rainfall was still weeks away.
Doing good, feeling good
On the first day, we met Lore Defrancq, a mama of two beautiful daughters. Lore ended up in Kenya years ago because of love (yup, you heard that right). She fell in love with Rob, who worked for Wildlife Works in Rukinga, and moved to be with him.
Here’s some important info: Wildlife Works is an award-winning conservation project that puts the landowners, community, wildlife and forest first. It is the world’s leading REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program. How cool is that? The United Nations introduced this climate mitigation strategy in an attempt to stop the destruction of forests, something which massively contributes to climate change. The REDD+ projects undertaken by Wildlife Works aim to preserve threatened forests and wildlife, and to uplift rural communities. The crux of their strategy is the creation of jobs, as those who could previously survive just through the destruction of forests need a viable alternative.
Because of Rob and Wildlife Works, Lore learned about the problems that the women in this region face, problems that are stark and far too many. They include, but certainly aren’t limited to, poverty, unemployment, a lack of family planning, incest, broken families, and violence. There is also prevalent alcohol and drug abuse among men, which is why many women find themselves alone.
As Lore contacted women’s groups, she discovered that these women also made beautiful craft baskets. Unfortunately though, they did not have enough customers to be able to live off of them. This was something Lore wanted to change. That is how Hadithi came into being. These traditional handicrafts are eco-friendly, sustainable and absolutely lovely.
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I know that lately I've been posting photos about my trip to Kenya (I just can't get over it because it was such a great and inspiring experience 😊). Here's a brief orientation about the organizations who made this trip possible. Ayacucho, @asadventure 's private brand is a collection of outdoor clothing, equipment & accessories produced with respect for people, animals, and the planet. With every Ayacucho item purchased, you support @solid.crafts International, an organization that promotes sustainable community development in India, Kenya, and Ayacucho, a region in Peru where the brand has been named. Ayacucho supports Solid International by giving money which the organization in return invests in some local entrepreneurship projects such as @hadithi_crafts. So instead of doing harmful practices like poaching wildlife and ruining forests for money, this program provides an alternative income generating jobs for the local people. The Hadithi baskets from the above pictures/video reflect the gratefulness of the local women who benefit from this project. Beautifully crafted, each one tells a unique story behind the people it was made by. 🇰🇪 #ayacuchogoeskenya #kenya🇰🇪 #socialentrepreneurship #sustainabledevelopment #womenempowerment #hadithikenya #reizen #duurzaamreizen #kenia #asadventure #ecofriendly #reisblogger #traveldifferently #conscioustraveler #ayacucho #handcrafted #shetravels #powerwomen
The stories that Lore told us had a deep impact on me. Meeting such a strong woman was heartening, and learning about all the efforts of Hadithi and Wildlife Works really opened my eyes.
We ended the first day with a real sundowner and a beer. Rob and Lore’s daughters, four-year-old Ella and two-year-old Sky, also joined us. These little ladies spoke fluently in Dutch, English and Swahili and enjoyed their dinner on a rock in the middle of the brousse. It was so endearing (and, might I add, impressive)!
The Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, which is where we were, is located between the two Tsavo parks in the south of Kenya. You will not find any other travelers or explorers here. It is a pure piece of nature that fights for its existence and for the rights of its locals. What a treat to have been here!
Of color and culture
The next morning, we saw a lot of wildlife on the way to the women’s group, including Pumbaa! For a loyal Lion King fan, that counts for a whole lot!
We were welcomed by the Makwasinyi women’s group with a traditional dance even before our car had halted fully. The women danced and sang with all their heart. One lady had a crown cap chain and swayed in full force. The color, positivity and energy emanated from this performance was absolutely wonderful (you have got to see it for yourselves: check it out here).
What we witnessed was actually the festive opening of the new community house in which A.S. Adventure and Solid have invested. In this safe place, women come together to weave baskets and use the functional water tank.
As I saw for myself, the Taita women were enormously grateful. After interacting with them, I came to know that they learned to weave baskets from their mothers and grandmothers. It is part of their tradition and one I am pleased to see continuing. If you want a more visual look at what a difference such initiatives can make, check out this video.
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"There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women." – Kofi Annan Last week we visited many groups of Taita women in Taita-Taviti county together with @asadventure and @solid.crafts . It was their welcoming nature and their colorful clothing that drew us to them, but it was their power to create, nurture and transform that made us want to learn and understand their culture even more. In this region, most men don't work. And there's a lot of alcoholism among them. Young girls get raped on their way to school. The amount of young dropouts is insane because of early pregnancy. Being able to see first hand how @hadithi_crafts helps to empower these women to work was the purpose of this whole trip. Seeing them feeling grateful about the possibility to work and earn money for their families just made everything so worth it. Now, they can pay for the education of their kids.The kids at school have a chance to learn about HIV, the importance of education, why it's wrong for a man to beat a woman, sexual protection, etc. Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development. More countries have understood that women's equality is a prerequisite for development. There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole – women and men alike – than the one which involves women as central players. – Kofi Annan There's still a long way to go. But change is coming. 🇰🇪 #asadventure #wildlifeworks #asadventuregoeskenya #hadithikenya #rukinga #mysdgspot #womenempowerment #womenempoweringwomen #betterworld #education #makeachange #sustainable #reizen #duurzaamreizen #wedstrijd #lonelyplanetnl #shetravels #africatravels #visitkenya #powerwomen
That night, after such a packed and intense day, we went for a game drive and were surrounded by elephants. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared at all, but I also felt something else: immense awe. What a world, what nature, what creatures. We are so small indeed.
On a lighter note, I also learned a life skill: if you see broken branches and fresh poop, beware – elephants are near! Claudia also spotted a rare ‘walking seal’, aka a honey badger. We ended this unforgettable day with a local ‘Tusken’ beer at the campfire.
And, with all that, I’m just half-way done recounting my Kenyan adventure! There’s lots more, so look out for part two of this blog. Until then, start planning your next sustainable trip to the bush – trust me, you won’t regret it!