By Barbara Krinke, Friends of Ngong Road Handicraft Volunteer
We left Nairobi on a newly constructed highway on a short trip to visit Ann Warimu (known to us as Mama Joyce, mother of Friends of Ngong Road student, Joyce Warimu). Mama Joyce is one of the talented artisans who makes some of the beautiful handicrafts purchased by FoNR and resold in the U.S. Our trip was an adventure and her inspiring story deserves telling.
With our local Nairobi driver following her written directions given to us in Swahili, we arrived at the point where we were instructed to leave the highway and turn onto a dirt road. The only approach to the dirt road was an abrupt 3-foot drop-off from the highway, causing much scraping and screeching from the underside of our car. The ride to Mama Joyce’s house only worsened the farther we drove, as did my mounting trepidation of the journey for our return to Nairobi.
After a lengthy 5-mile-per-hour drive up and down many steep hills, we arrived at the short road leading to Mama Joyce’s house. She met us at the turnoff with a smile and guided us on foot to her house. There we were introduced to Mama Joyce’s two goats and many chickens. She invited us into her small cement-block, stick-and-mud home, where we had a chance to learn more about her life, her family, and her handicrafts.
Mama Joyce happily told us how much FoNR has meant to her and her family. Her daughter, Joyce, was a student in the FoNR program beginning in 2008, and is one of FoNR’s success stories. Joyce has earned her diploma in hotel and catering, and at age 23, is now working at a restaurant outside of Nairobi. Mama Joyce explained that without FoNR, she would not have been able to afford Joyce’s education, nor her school supplies, shoes, school uniforms, food and healthcare, all of which were all provided by the program. Speaking in Swahili, Mama Joyce told us that even though she was not educated herself, she knows that her daughter’s education will allow her to have a better life.
Mama Joyce went on to reveal that the handicraft items she makes and sells to FoNR have helped her support her other children, one of whom is an adult son who is blind. A current hardship for her is the severe drought that is affecting Kenya and surrounding countries. As we drove through the countryside to Mama Joyce’s house on that 90-degree day, we saw the corn stalks dried up in the fields. As we rode along we frequently wiped the dusty red soil from our eyes as it blew into our open car windows. Mama Joyce explained that for the first time she has to buy food for her goats, as the natural grazing materials have all dried up and died. The goats that provide her family with milk, and the chickens that provide eggs, are now becoming an additional expense to feed.
When we asked her what we could do to help her, Mama Joyce told us that she would like to find a way to sell more of her handicrafts. She explained that the local Nairobi artisan markets are expensive as they and the city charge fees to participate. And it is also an expense in time and money for her to transport her handicrafts to the city and spend the day away from her family and her animals. Our drive out to her home in the country was perilous in our hired car. For Mama Joyce to get to the city, she has to pay for a motorcycle ride to the main highway, and then pay for a bus (or two) to take her into the city. That is a commute that I would not want to have to make after our experience on this day!
Given the many challenges in Mama Joyce’s life that we observed and learned about, we left impressed by her determination to contribute to her family’s well being and inspired by her devotion to the artistry that lives in each of her beautiful handicrafts.