Its funny how life is sometimes. You can be going along all hunky dory doing your thing and then you make one small decision and it changes your whole life. I met Heidi Totten in January of 2017 and began to learn all about her trips to Kenya and 100 humanitarians. We were talking one day in September and I was telling her how I like to sew and create my own patterns. She asked if I wanted to go to Kenya- if you’ve met Heidi, you know she does this all the time. I said yes, at some point, but what can I do now?
She asked me if I could make and underwear pattern.
….This is where everything in my life began to change….
I said yes.
An underwear pattern. How often do you think about underwear here in the United States? Maybe once a day, –you know to make sure you put on a clean pair. The point is we rarely think about it, its just part of all the other stuff we don’t really think about here. But that’s not the case in Kenya and other developing countries. There are people- Women and girls who don’t even know what underwear or panties are!
Talk about an eye opener for me. I will never be ungrateful for the things I have ever again.
Heidi told me Christine’s story, and she told me the story of these beautiful girls that missed school every month, had to sit on cardboard for a week and wait while they bled and life went by. These girls that are taught to get a boyfriend, so the boy can get them what they need (feminine hygiene products) to help them stop bleeding and/or sex and then pregnancy. These girls then end up dropping out of school, in early marriages with FGM, prostitution and being young mothers on the streets. For these girls, a pair of underwear is life changing.
Yes, I said yes!
I have sons,There’s like 3 styles of underwear for boys. That’s it 1, 2, 3. Style A,B, or C.
Then you look at girls and it’s like you need freaking library card catalog system just to find ONE style!
Hipster, boy shorts, granny, bikini, skimpy bikini, high cut, low cut, boxer cut, and who knows how many others! But wait there’s more then there’s like hipster style A, B and C…
Anyways musings of a pattern designer.
As I did my research, I started drawing up ideas for the pattern. Every time I finished a drawing I would here a voice in my head that said, “its to much, keep it simple.” I went through several drawings always making them more and more simple, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t right yet.
One day I was looking at pictures from 100 humanitarians past expeditions. I realized I needed to make this pattern in a way that it would not need anything extra but the fabric and thread. Did you know most underwear styles here use elastic? I found out later, elastic is hard to find in Kenya.
I made the underwear pattern in eight sizes, with three pattern pieces, no extras. Fabric and thread. Simple.
Heidi and I met up and I gave her the pattern to take to Christine, who would be making underwear from the pattern, in Kenya.
Then she asks, “Can you make this pattern from a T-shirt?”
Yes, yes you can.
One pattern. 8 sizes and you can make it from a T-shirt. Simple.
By small and simple things great things can happen.
Marissa Waldrop is a wife and Mother to 4 sons. She has always had a passion for creative expression and to inspire others to do their best. Marissa has a Bachelors of Science degree in Communication from Brigham Young Univ. Idaho, over 25 years of experience sewing and creating with fabric and other mediums, and over 5 years of experience as a leader in mentoring and coaching others to embrace creative expression and communication within themselves.
The jeeps rumbled up the mountain, winding on bumpy dirt roads. Out the windows were fields of green interrupted by rectangular dung huts baked hard in the African sun, several of them with brightly colored cloth drying on a fence.
Everything was so new to us. Life is slower there, taken at the same pace as the plants growing in the fields. As always in Suswa, every time we passed someone, they would smile and wave.
It was the Mau. We were on our way to church.
The church stands atop a green hill, surrounded by farms. The building itself is made of wood and corrugated metal. As we entered, we were met by hugs leaning to the left, then to the right, and greetings of “Supa oleng.” We were invited to sit in pastel plastic chairs, and services began in song. Immediately we are invited to take part in dancing with the congregation. Music is a universal language and soon we are a part of a writhing mass of worshipers. We learn the steps quickly and wind around the church.
When the song was over, we sat in our chairs again, a part of something new and different, but ancient. We were introduced one by one and sang for the congregation.
After services, Pastor Ben invited us to walk to the home of a woman with three children. “She has been ill,” he tells us. “She wasn’t at church today.”
We met Emily and her three children outside her dung hut, surrounded by fields of corn. The roof of her home was a sheet of clear plastic held in place by stones and logs. Her children’s faces were surrounded by flies. The children without shoes. Emily with a slight limp.
The depth of what we are trying to do struck us. After the upbeat, faith filled church service, this was a crash back to reality. I think the whole team had the same question, “What are we going to do for this family? How can we teach self-reliance in the face of such poverty?”
We asked Emily if we could enter her home. Three of us stepped into the shadows and had to turn on the flashlights of our phones to see. Smoke hung in the air from the cooking fire in the tiny kitchen. It nearly choked us. Everything was a deep black color from the soot. There was no ventilation.
Heidi turned to me, “Living like this is as bad as smoking.”
Through interpretation from Pastor Ben and Moses, we learned that Emily has access to water. She has experience growing corn, and can use that experience to grow other vegetables. Our decision was that a garden box would be a good start for her.
The weight of this work seems too much to bear sometimes. Self-reliance and success seems so far away for some of the families. So much needs to be done and all we can do is a small part. Our efforts are a drop in the bucket of the need we see as we travel up and down the rough roads of Kenya.
The walk back to the jeeps was far quieter than it had been on the way to Emily’s. All of us lost in the vastness of need.
In my two trips to Kenya, I have learned much about the power of “the start.” I’ve learned to have faith in the waiting and watching of these families. Emily will get a garden box. And like the planting of a seed, through the garden box, we will watch her begin to grow what she can.
After finishing up the garden at Joyce’s house she invited us to learn how to make chapati, something sort of like naan bread. This was just one of the experiences of cultural immersion on the November Trip.
She pulled a table out into her yard and gathered all the ingredients flour, water, salt and oil. Then, started a fire in a small stove to heat a pan.
She showed us how to make the dough, stirring it with her hands. Muneria came to help as well.
Like mothers all over the world, she reminded her child to wash his hands before preparing food, which he did in a large blue bowl sitting next to the table. A special plate served as a platform to roll the chapati into perfect circles. He worked quickly, handing the rolled out flat bread to his mother who cooked them. She turned them with her bare hands, using no instrument to protect them from the heat.
Muneria then offered us a chance to roll out the chapati. We took turns, none of ours turning out as round as his. We laughed, feeling the warmth of home with this family who lives a different culture half a world away.
Sarah’s turn came up. She rolled the dough one way getting it stuck to the plate and stretching the dough as she freed it. She used more flour and rolled it some more. “That’s too big.” Joyce laughed, handing her more dough. “Try again.”
She started again, this time paying careful attention to the size, but not the shape. When she finished, it looked like a map of the United States. She handed it to Joyce with a shrug. Joyce shook her head and it was put onto the pan with a little oil to cook.
When David was finished with the water storage system, he came around the house to join us. We invited him to take his turn rolling chapati.
“Fine.” He said. “But mine is going to be round. Not corner, corner, corner, like Sarah’s.” This was met with kind hearted laughter from our group. Joyce pointed to the bowl of wash water. He obeyed.
Then, while rolling out the dough, David told us about how there are times in their culture when men and women separate and make their own food. He showed us how to roll it out to make it round. “See? Like this. You roll, and then turn it.” He pat the dough down. “Roll. And then turn again.”
He handed the dough to Joyce who watched us all with love, curiosity, and a little disbelief at how nutty this group of Americans is.
We dined together on our unifying chapati, rice, and carrots. It was the end of a full day of work, service, mentoring, and unconditional love.
When I say we experience cultural immersion, these are the types of things I am talking about. We get to be in the homes of the families. We learn from them and love them. We put our hands in their soil, climb onto their roof to put up rain gutters, collect water in rivers, dine with them, and hear their stories from their own lips.
By the time we leave, we have a new name, an expanded family, people who pray for us, and a home to come to when we return.
If you would like to join us for an expedition, learn more here.
This is Frances. I think. To be honest, I can’t remember. It seems like there were two guys named Frances though, and I think he’s one of them. At least, that’s his anglicized name. I think …
ANYway … whatever his name is, this guy is awesome. He is a Maasai warrior. I met him on my first trip to Kenya with 100 Humanitarians. Once we got to the Maasai village that we visited, he took me out in the brush to show me how the Maasai people clean their teeth. Tooth brushes and toothpaste aren’t available anywhere within less than a few hours’ drive, so they do what they can. There’s a particular kind of tree from which they slice off a green twig with their razor-sharp machete, then they simply chew on it. They also kind of rub it around on the front surface of their teeth.
It isn’t terribly effective, but hey–it’s what they have to work with, so they make it work for them.
After that little demonstration, Frances showed me his machete. According to him, it was worth about $100 American dollars. I winced, but I really wanted one. In the end, he wanted me to buy the machete, his rungu (a dancing/battle stick… they’re awesome!), and a necklace for about $350. Now … I knew they weren’t worth that, but I didn’t know exactly what each was worth. I knew I couldn’t get all three at that cost. If I remember right, I ended up with the necklace for $45.
Funny story … my last name has become a verb for those who went on that trip and have gone on subsequent trips. If you got “McCabed,” you got ripped off. Hard. Like … laughably hard. I’m okay with that. It really is kind of funny.
Here’s the thing though: yah, I got taken. Is that Frances’ fault? No. Is it my fault? It certainly is, but in all honesty, I know what that money does for their tribe, their village, their families … and in that moment, I simply didn’t mind.
You have to remember that, in that area of the Mara, the villagers see “mzungus” literally every day. A mzungu is basically an outsider who’s easily duped. No, a simple soapstone carving of some elephant is not worth $50. It’s worth *maybe* $10 if it’s intricately painted.
I haven’t seen Frances in well over a year. I have a lot of love in my heart for him, his village, his family, his people … And I have his rungu tucked away in my box of Kenyan artifacts that I’ve picked up on my trips. When I pull out that stuff and look at it, I remember him. I remember Kenya. I remember the incredible experiences I had over there–the feelings of unfettered love for a people who I had never met, and knowing that that love was and is reciprocated on their end. In the interest of fairness, Frances’ job is to sell me stuff. He did that. The common villagers, though … their job is to simply *live*. Survive. When we come to their village and help them set up a garden box, or provide them a goat or cow, their joy and gratitude is ELECTRIC. I’ll talk about that in another blog post down the road.
I really miss Kenya. I can’t wait to get back over there and see my friends. I hope that you’ll come with me on one of our expeditions. I can tell you these stories and experiences all I want, and you can read them and think, “Oh. Well, that’s awesome!”, but I promise you … there is no way to adequately do justice to the experience using mere words. You *have* to be there. Literally.
Come play with us in Kenya. Join 100 Humanitarians. Change your life. Only then will any of this make sense in any kind of meaningful way. 🙂
When people ask me why I went to Kenya in the first place I smile and say, “Peer pressure.” Before I got on the plane in March of 2015, I had no desire to go to anywhere in Africa. In fact, there was a list of about 50 countries that I planned to visit BEFORE ever setting foot on the continent. However, I had a group of friends who had been to Kenya a couple of times and after listening to them ramble on about it for about two years, I decided it might make a fun girls trip.
I had absolutely no idea what I was in for.
I remember the first day in Western Kenya when we went to visit families after attending an Anglican church on the property of the guest house where we were staying. The music had pierced me to the core, so I was already in a reflective and contemplative mood. Walking down the road I said to my friend, “I just…I don’t even know how to explain what I am feeling about all of this.” She said, “I know. They don’t need us. We need them.”
That phrase has stuck with me ever since, and is often said in different variations by the people who have since gone to Kenya with me. When I returned from Kenya with my DNA completely rearranged, I made it a matter of intense prayer and reflection and kept asking, “What am I supposed to do now?”
Then one Sunday a few months later I was getting ready for church and literally a voice that I can still remember today said, “Go start a group on Facebook called 100 Humanitarians. I’ll let you know why later.” So I did. Right then, on my phone, with no clear picture of what it was supposed to be. I invited some friends who I thought might sort of be interested in it. Turns out that it wasn’t my friends who were interested, but strangers. By the end of 2016 I will have taken over 50 people to Kenya, and I only knew 6 of them prior to all of this starting.
The voice has never come back, but inspiration and direction and nudges have replaced it. When the ideas come, they come fast and furious, and are always bigger than I could possibly imagine. Each trip has a completely different feel, and it’s never like I am learning something for the first time, but more like I am remembering that it is what I am here to do. Many people who have come with me feel the same way. It’s like we are finding each other and combining efforts. Some people have come and gone. Some have taken on the projects that have called to them in Kenya and are running with them at the same rapid pace. The collaboration has brought unbelievable miracles.
Every. Single. Day.
Now, we have over 1300 people in the 100 Humanitarians Facebook group. We have a list of over 100 people who are already planning on going to Kenya with us, and more contact me daily. We have built out a core program that we call “Business Boxes for Families” that provide a cow, a goat, 5 chickens, 3 garden boxes, 10 trees, Days for Girls reusable hygiene kits, and mentoring and education on how to turn it all into a sustainable business.
We are in the process of building the Emparnat Cultural Center on the Maasai Mara with guest houses to provide opportunities for people around world to be a part of our Families Mentoring Families program, where we teach what we know, and learn what the Maasai know, to build a bridge between the cultures.
But most of all, we have built a culture around 100 Humanitarians that is rooted in Love, Trust, and Voluntary Cooperation. Everyone who is a part of what we are doing is there because they choose in and find what it is that calls to them, whether they are on the team in the U.S. or in Kenya.
As 100 Humanitarians expands, we focus as much as possible on two things: mentoring and sustainable economic development. It’s about people, not projects. It’s about connection, not coercion. And it’s working.
The Story of 100 Humanitarians International by Heidi Totten
On our first expedition to Kenya, 100 Humanitarians held a Days for Girls workshop at Eselenkai Girls Primary Boarding School in Kenya. The girls in attendance were girls who had run from Female Genital Mutilation and early marriage, and were mostly in Class 7 and 8, which is 7th and 8th grades in the U.S. We had become aware of the issue of feminine hygiene for girls, and contacted the school to talk to them about the Days for Girls Enterprise and program that we were helping to create in Kenya. At the time, we were supporting one Days for Girls Enterprise, run by Christine Sakali, a woman that we helped fundraise for the previous year to attend the Days for Girls University in Uganda.
After our training with Christine, we met with the girls in a large central hall. Part of the training included not just how to use the reusable feminine hygiene kit, but also hand washing and sanitation. Since then, our workshops have included things like self-defense and how to understand the female cycle. This was a very humbling experience for our team, because until we arrived at the school our expedition had mostly been the fun stuff like The Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi. Realizing what these girls were facing, and how they were so brave to run towards a better life, we couldn’t help but experience a huge range of emotions.
As we distributed the kits, we had some time to spend with the girls, getting to know them and their stories. Many members of our team had the same names as the girls in the school. The girls, though in a very challenging situation, were all smiles and hugs and LOVED having their pictures taken with us. Each of us had a small group of girls swarming us, asking questions and playing with our hair. There aren’t the same physical boundaries in Kenya as there are in the U.S. and affection and love is everywhere. Even though we were the ones that showed up to serve them, all of us came away feeling like we were the ones who were served and taught by the girls.
Since then, we have made every effort to host a Days for Girls workshop on every expedition. We fundraise in the U.S. for kits, and then have Christine and her team sew the kits in Kenya. Her enterprise is able to then support many families with basic needs and school fees for their children. If you would like to donate to our Days for Girls program, click here.