When Kathy Lambert packs her bags for a trip to Kenya later this month, she’s not likely to forget a toothbrush—or makeup. These items have earned prominent places in the District 3 King County Council representative’s memory both from her previous trip to Kenya, three years ago.
The toothbrushes, possibly hundreds of them, are destined for women and children suffering from AIDS and living in the slums of Nairobi. When Lambert met some of them on a mission trip with WorldComp Kenya in 2011, she was saddened by how bad their teeth were.
“I asked some of the WorldComp people about it, what we could do to prevent that,” she said. “They kind of looked at me, and said, ‘Well, toothbrushes would be nice!’”
So now Lambert is collecting donations of toothbrushes, with help from the Snoqualmie Elementary School second grade classes, and Pioneer Coffee in North Bend.
And the makeup? That’s a different story, one that highlights some of the differences between life here and life in Kenya.
“I ran out of makeup when I was there,” she explained, so she stopped in a store to buy some more. After explaining to the store clerk what she wanted, she was told first, that “we don’t wear that kind of makeup here,” and second, “lady, we wouldn’t have your color!”
This time, she’ll come prepared for that contingency, but she expects there will still be surprises while she’s in Kenya, Jan. 9 to 25.
“The thing about it is when you get there, you never know what other issues are going to come up,” she said. “It’s an adventure from early in the morning to late at night!”
On her first adventure in Kenya, Lambert worked closely with schoolchildren, and said she “absolutely fell in love with one of the schools there and the mission of what they’re doing.” A former teacher, Lambert feels that education is especially important in helping children, and the country as a whole, to deal with the extreme poverty.
“There are a lot of people who live in the garbage dump, and mine the garbage dump,” she remembered. “Oh my gosh, you see the impacts of poverty… it’s so different from our level of poverty…. you come back very appreciative.”
Lambert shared some of her experience with SES students who were studying Kenya in class, said teacher Nate Ziemkowski, and that was really the start of the project. “Once they (students) heard about the need, it didn’t take any convincing to get them to collect and donate,” he wrote.
“Many kids got involved and brought toothbrushes to school. Some asked for extra toothbrushes when they went for a dentist appointment. A few were really surprised when the dentist give them a whole box of toothbrushes.”
Together, the four second grade classes collected about 300 toothbrushes, he estimated. His class kept a running total of donations and adding up the donations was part of their math studies.
Lambert will visit several schools on this trip, as she did on the last one, as well as two large slums in Nairobi, Kibera, with about 1.5 million people, and Dagoretti, with almost 700,000, and a boys’ prison gaining national attention for its innovations in rehabilitating juvenile offenders.
“It’s been labeled as the top, and now a model, prison in Kenya for boys. Amazing things are happening there, so that’s an exciting place that I’m looking forward to going back to,” she said.
She’s also excited about the sewing machines that her WorldComp group plans to bring with them. The machines, part of WorldComp’s micro finance business program, will give women there an opportunity to learn a trade and potentially earn their own incomes.
“It’s really amazing to see these ladies who have got these micro finance businesses,” Lambert said. “One woman is going to send her daughter to college, and they never dreamed that anybody in that village would go to college.”
The micro-finance program, like most of WorldComp’s work in the area is a joint effort, which Lambert really appreciates.
“There is a board in Kenya and a board here, and they work together, she said, “so it is not our country doing something to them, but with them, which is very important.”
It also capitalizes on the inherent resourcefulness of Kenyans.
“They are just able to do so many things, and it’s really quite amazing,” Lambert said, especially since the country’s infrastructure isn’t always maintained or repaired when broken.
“There are a lot of things that could be fixed, but just aren’t. It’s really interesting to see how a little bit of ingenuity can solve a problem.”
Lambert travels to Kenya Jan. 9 to 25. She’s planning to bring home several empty suitcases, and, like last time, some eye-opening experiences.
“I think the thing I came back with is how something so little, for example an amount of money, can make such a huge difference in turning people’s lives around,” Lambert said.
To support WorldComp Kenya’s efforts, visit http://worldcompkenya.com.
Kathy Lambert, center, cuts the ribbon on a new facility, on a previous trip to Kenya with WorldComp Kenya.
Kenyan students and staff pose for a photo outside their school in 2011.
Lambert at a Kenyan school.
This treadle-operated machine can be the start of a woman's own business in Kenya. WorldComp Kenya is bringing two machines to the country on their mission to help poverty-stricken women and children.
A group of children photographed in 2011 when Lambert first went to Africa with WorldComp Kenya to work with schools, slums and to dig wells, all on the agenda for this visit, too.
Lambert spoke to the second grade classes at Snoqualmie Elementary School about her upcoming trip, and enlisted their help in collecting more than 300 toothbrushes for people in Kenya.
Nate Ziemkowski’s second-graders show off some of the 300 toothbrushes they will send to Kenya, a country they’ve been studying.