My journey to Kenya is something I’ve wanted to share with you guys for a few weeks now, but was also something I didn’t know how to write about. There’s so much of myself that I share on social media, but still so much of myself that I keep hidden. I try to navigate the fact that I’ve created a business off of exposing so much of my life online, but that I’m also a human being and not immune to the feelings that everyone on this planet faces. That being said, I was so honored when PacSun offered to collaborate with me through their partnership with the social enterprise, ME to WE – a nonprofit that pays artisans in Kenya a fair wage for their work, and sells their wares worldwide. I am currently partnering with ME to WE as a new spokesperson for the charity, and will be designing a Rafiki bracelet, which is inspired by the Masaai tribe’s tradition of extraordinary beadwork, and also supports the mamas – the craftswomen – who make the bracelets.
Even though I was honored to partner with a cause I believed in wholeheartedly, I was also terrified. While I have been through heartbreak, emotional struggles, family crises, and severe uncertainty, I also know that I am so lucky. The fact that I’ve made a career for myself as an influencer means I don’t face a lot of the same struggles that a lot of people face. I wanted to go to Kenya to support the women and girls employed by ME to WE, but at the same time, I felt ambivalent. Any struggle I have faced in my life would not compare to the fact that these women and girls have so little. How could I make a difference in their lives when, compared to them, my life has been relatively easy? Still, despite my doubts and fears, I wanted to travel to Kenya to support the young women affiliated with ME to WE.
It was a long journey getting to Kenya. Members from PacSun, ME to WE, and Song of Style journeyed from Atlanta, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis over a period lasting between 17 and 23 hours. We stayed in Nairobi the first night, and then moved to ME to WE’s charity accommodations in the Masai Mara – a natural savannah preserve in Kenya where we each stayed in our own individual tents.
We had local Masai Warriors staying with us whose English names were Robert and Wilson. They live with their tribes, and were kind enough to be our guides for the week. What was particularly amazing about the Masai Mara reserve was that there were monkeys, bush babies, and birds within the resort that we could hear throughout the night. The experience was so magical, and honestly made adjusting to the jet lag feel effortless. Being in Kenya and with the Masai Mara tribe was almost like a dream in itself. There were times when we were tired; however, the children, mamas, and communities we were surrounded by were so full of life it was so easy to feel awake and filled with life.
One of the most moving experiences of this whole trip was witnessing the level of commitment from PacSun and ME to WE’s team members, and how passionate they were about actually wanting to help and provide for these communities. I think these days, it’s so easy to think of contributing to social causes as something we just check off our lists, and I was so thankful to have met people on this journey who are truly committed to making a change in the world. I feel like I made lasting connections with everyone I met on this trip, and I am looking forward to traveling with the same amazing people in the future in our efforts to give back. Also, I was very inspired by how much progress ME to WE has actually made in the community, and how involved, hard working and hopeful the members of of the Masai Mara tribe are: more than anything, they want to work to build sustainable change for both themselves and their children.
One of the most inspiring moments of the entire trip was when I visited the women’s empowerment center. Traditionally, the mamas were never able to find work outside their homes, and thus had no influence over their homes or families. By employing the mamas to make Rafiki bracelets and other wares, ME to WE gives the mamas a way to contribute financially to their households, and therefore obtain influence and decision-making abilities over their homes and lives.
One of my other favorite moments of the trip was when we went to the secondary education school for girls. I can’t even begin to explain how hopeful, grateful, and hard-working these young women were – despite having such limited resources. It wasn’t about what they had, but what they could achieve. And how grateful they are for these new opportunities for education. Now, they have the chance to gain the skills they need to have real careers in addition to their future roles as wives and mothers. It’s amazing to see that these girls now have dreams, visions, and goals, whereas they didn’t have the opportunity to have these dreams before.
Because of the continued support of PacSun and ME to WE, and the local hard work, I believe I have the ability to make even more change in the community. Going forward, I want to do everything I can to help the communities I met, and inspire as many people as possible to contribute to this cause.
After my trip to Kenya, I knew I would be inspired by the communities I met and the cause I was contributing to, but what I didn’t realize is that this trip gave me a new perspective on myself and what I am capable of. This trip has taught me that no matter who we are or what we’ve been through – and no matter how much or how little we’ve accomplished – we don’t have to change ourselves to reach an arrival point that will one day make us “good enough.” Just as we are, we are powerful enough to drive impact and change. More than anything, I want my journey to Kenya to show you that your voice matters, and you can create the change you want to see in the world – no matter how qualified or unqualified you may feel. All you have to do is start. Photos: Chad Martin
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Photos: Chad Martin