8.13.14

“Africa grabs some of us by the throat and once it does, it makes it hard to be anywhere else – you will always be dreaming of Africa.” – Unknown.

Catt Sadler, charming E! News co-host and one of the prettiest mugs on television these days, passed along this quote to us after her first visit to Kenya, Africa this summer. Joining with one of our favorite charitable accessories brands, Raven + Lily, plus her mother’s own foundation, Women Like Us, Catt was able to witness the benefits of this kind of socially conscious business from all angles. Catt visited Raven + Lily’s artisans herself, and along the way traveled adventurous – if bumpy – roads, made heart-rending connections, and witnessed incredible charitable solutions come to life through the hands of Raven + Lily’s talented Masaai women in southern Kenya. 

Throughout the above photos Catt wears pieces made by the women she visited, including the blouse and skirt, plus this Fall/Winter collection waning crescent fringe necklace and gold leather bracelet. Read about Catt’s journey below, visit Raven + Lily to support these artisans directly, and pop over to watch this adorable video of Catt breaking it down with a class full of Masaai children! Here’s Catt…

With a shared vision of lifting up women around the world, my mom and I met up with Raven + Lily founder Kirsten Dickerson while in Kenya to witness the phenomenal work she had been doing near Amboselli with a Masaai community. Raven + Lily selected this particular group of women, already known and celebrated for their unique and beautiful beaded jewelry, to help design and craft am incredible collection.

This socially conscious American-based company employs these women, offering them an income they otherwise wouldn’t have, but also mentors in the most intimate of ways. We paid a visit to the village to not only see for ourselves the work these ladies had done, but most importantly to hear how this experience has shaped them and impacted their lives. To see how proud these women were, to see how fiercely dedicated they were, to hear stories of how they could now pay for their children’s education and healthcare – well, it was powerful, to say the least.

Lesson one: DON’T JUDGE FROM BEHIND THE GLASSI didn’t expect to feel sad when I got to Kenya. My first full day involved a four-hour drive from Nairobi to the Masaii Mara. Along the bumpy dirt roads were barefoot kids covered in flies, women slowly walking carrying heavy materials like wood and water, and countless street vendors sitting next to their goods, but not particularly selling much. The views were exquisite, the land so beautiful, the people too – but having just arrived, I felt melancholy. I had never been to a third world country and I was taking in the poverty for the first time. There was a certain pace of the people that was vastly different from the westernized energy I was accustomed to. My head was ecstatic to be in Africa. My heart ached a little for these people I did not yet know.

lesson two: WE WORK

I traveled with 17 females, one of them my mom, Linda Rendleman, founder of the Women Like Us Foundation. Our first outreach was at the Olmalaika Home, a refuge for girls who were mostly victims of FGM (female genital mutilation). These girls were bright, eager, hardworking and clearly grateful to be in a safe environment. They sang for us upon our arrival, voices of angels, but then quickly resumed their duties for the day. I helped with laundry and let me tell you, this was no easy task. First you fetch your water hundreds of feet away in the river. Then you stand, bent over at the waist, next to three buckets where you rotate between scrubbing, soaking and rinsing. A single dress took me a few minutes. The girls, on the other hand, had this down to a science. My lower back was aching. The girls, contrastingly, were like machines. Strong, committed, not a single complaint. I suggested some music to accompany us from my iPhone. They giggled. But we kept on working. I couldn’t help but think of my young boys, who too have chores and responsibilities, but who I couldn’t imagine lasting ten minutes at this task. The beauties at the Olmalaika quickly taught me to “toughen up”.

lesson three: CRYing is allowed

During our travels we captured many of our experiences on film for a documentary we will share in the U.S. in hopes of inspiring others to also make a change in the world. One of my interviews was with a girl named Jackie, also from the Olmalaika Home. She was fourteen years old, but almost six feet tall – simply gorgeous, with a long neck like a swan. She had come here after suffering a painful circumcision. She was soft spoken and shy, and understandably not used to the cameras. While I asked her about her life before the school, and how her world had been enhanced since coming there – the hope of a bright future, a quality education, and surrounded by her new loving family – well, I got emotional. I didn’t mean to cry, but I was overwhelmed by the moment. Jackie’s serene disposition, after all she had endured, moved me to tears. I didn’t want her to think I pitied her because it was quite the contrary. I tried to explain to her how inspired I was by her future and how brave I thought she was. I don’t think she understood my words, but she definitely understood my heart.

lesson four: the FIRST LADY

Are you open to miracles? Do you expect them? I do. I find that when my heart and mind are open to miraculous life-changing events, they arrive. The girls and I were on Rusinga Island now, after a long day of volunteering at the NA Noel School. We were discussing our day, the children’s hardships at the school, how we could raise money if only to buy them all shoes, when a miracle arrived, via helicopter. Our group had been staying at a lodge and had essentially filled it to capacity. The manager approached us and explained that the former prime minister of Kenya and his wife had arrived unexpectedly and would we mind bunking up in pairs so that they could occupy one of the rooms. Of course we obliged. We knew they were nearby, but we didn’t expect the former first lady, who we would later learn was Ida Odinga, to sit down with us, sip wine with us, and discuss the state of affairs for young girls in Kenya. Little did we know that her entire public campaign has consisted of furthering the education of females, their social development, and economic empowerment – the same pillars that our organization, Women Like Us, stands on. She was a rock. A light. A vision of inspiration. Although her stay was brief, she even agreed to go on camera for our documentary. I interviewed her at the break of dawn the next morning on the grass beside Lake Victoria. I cannot wait to share her insight and story with you.

lesson five: hugs are universal

Hugs are universal. High fives, not so much. Our longest trek took us deep into the Kenyan countryside to another school. Unlike the kids we met in the more populated areas, most of these children had never seen a white person. Ever. So unlike our other school visits in which we were greeted with hugs, hand holding, and a real feeling of connection, these kids were literally afraid of us. They were cautious in their proximity to us. Were these strange visitors from Mars?! Although we came in love to deliver new undergarments, school supplies, and sanitary pads for the girls – we needed to break the ice. We tried to shake hands and even then, they pulled away. Then I asked them if they “high five.” No response. Then I showed them a high five with my friends. I, of course, added an enthusiastic “woo hoo” and that’s when I got a chuckle. Before I knew it we were all laughing, all woo hoo-ing, and eventually all intermingling while practicing our western custom of high-fiving. It really did bring us together. A special thank you to Victorious Teens, the Kenya-based organization that led our group to the school and continuously supports children there in need.

lesson six: SHAKE YOUR HIPS, EARN RESPECT

After we had examined the beautiful Raven + Lily pieces the ladies had made, Kirsten, Mom, and I got to partake in an authentic Masaii dance session. The women could not have been more inviting, more intriguing, oozing strength and wisdom. Still, when they asked us to dance, I was a bit reserved. The Masaai women were singing local songs in a language I did not understand but then started sprinkling in a healthy amount of chanting that became quite contagious. Some sexy hip and shoulder thrusting followed, and so you better believe I got involved! In minutes I was gasping for air, out of breath, but laughing hysterically because unbeknownst to me I was earning some mad respect from these women! The natural performer in me was giving it all that she had and suddenly I was in the middle of the circle and all eyes on me in amazement. Our guide translated that they “could not believe my hips” and kept asking “Where did she learn that?!” Before I knew it I was very popular and was the fortunate recipient of lots of hugs and handholding. Something transpired in those moments and a true, tangible connection was formed. They looked in my eyes now, things were different. I think they detected some soul. I’ll cherish that moment forever.

lesson seven: NO WIFI, NO PROBLEM

There’s something incredibly freeing and equally frustrating about going off the map. I was capturing the most extraordinary photographs and special moments from my time in Kenya – the people, the wildlife, the terrain – and I had this insatiable desire to share it all, immediately, but the majority of my travels throughout the country meant no internet connection. (See my blog and you’ll find that even now my Kenya Diary ends on Day 4! Never did get back to that.) The overwhelming drama of the land and culture in Kenya made my minutes and hours full of adventure and surprise. Admittedly, it was difficult at first, but after awhile I just let go of the need to check my Twitter timeline or Instagram feed. I had traveled halfway around the world with my mom, made an assortment of new friends, and my life was there. Then. In the present. Now. Kenya was consuming me, and it has been ever since.

lesson eight: I’VE LEARNED I’LL ALWAYS BE LEARNING

I left Africa inspired, changed and eager to learn more. To have shared this journey with Women Like Us and Raven + Lily, to look through a lens of philanthropy and progress, was a true gift. I can’t begin to pretend that there’s one answer or easy broad stroke to help those whom are less fortunate. (Both WLU and R+L do an exceptional amount of work here in the U.S. as well, and those changes don’t happen overnight either.) Sometimes it’s an overwhelming feeling when you witness real need. It’s emotional, intense and heavy. The “whys” require learning a whole history, a culture, and a way of life foreign to you. This takes time and thorough examination. But to help, even a little, doesn’t require anything but an open heart and a helping hand. It sounds cliché, but real charity is a two way street. I went there to give, but know it is I who has received. Thank you, sweet Kenya, for a trip I’ll never forget.

Visit Raven + Lily to find these gorgeous pieces that support these artisans directly, then pop over to watch this adorable video of Catt breaking it down with a class full of Masaai children!


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