Last month, our founder Virginia Bruce travelled to Nairobi, Kenya to meet with some of the inspirational people behind the Ethical Fashion Initiative and Ethical Fashion Africa. A part of the International Trade Centre, the EFI has been a key player in poverty alleviation by using the fashion industry as a vehicle for some of Africa’s most disenfranchised communities.
From walking through a slum in Nairobi to visiting the EFI workshops and the people she met along the way, Virginia shares some of the highlights – and surprises – from her journey.
06.05.14 – Korogocho : The Invisible City.
On Monday I walked through ‘Korogocho’, one of Nairobi’s slums.
We were greeted there by a group of 6 or 7 children, between the ages of 5 and 9 – joyful, mischievous, inquisitive, laughing, giggling, smiling – all wanting their photos taken while they practiced their English.
“How are you ?” – these three words were chanted throughout the slum by almost every child that we passed. Clearly they had been taught to be considerate and to ask after the well being of others, and in the context of their circumstances this was unbelievable.
What struck me was the smell of raw sewerage and rubbish. The squalor that these people live in is beyond words. This environment where 100K people live in 13 ‘suburbs’ is 1.5 km square and is located on a rubbish dump. There is no water unless you buy it, little food, and some extreme violence.
When I asked whether there were any plans to improve the plight of this city the response was “no”. It is an ‘invisible city’ in a country where 52% of the population live in poverty.
Yet within this environment life has found its own rhythm. Schools have been created, enterprises started, an economy of survival. Music floats through the streets, children play, women chat, men congregate and yet, the average life expectancy in ‘Korogocho’ is 35 years old.
07.05.14 – Vincent and the power of choice.
Vincent works for Ethical Fashion Africa, working with the women in the communities and measuring the social impact of EFAL’s work. He is amazing, compassionate, intelligent, learned, articulate – and he speaks 16 languages!
What is striking about Vincent is his smile – brimming from ear to ear. He is 32 and he was born in the slum of ‘Korogocho’. Vincent has survived the slum and the paradigm that it represents to die there before you are 35.
When you ask Vincent how he did it – he tells you it is simply a choice. It was Vincent’s choice at the age of 14 to go back to his education which was made possible by the Comino missionaries and the school and church community they built and still run to this day.
Vincent works as impact assessor for the EFAL and is in close contact with the workers, most of whom are women. He shared a story with us of a woman, a mother of four, whose house burned down shortly after she started working for the EFAL.
“This lady did not lose courage, she did not lose hope. She continued soldiering on. She told her colleagues, “I have lost everything in my life but I am happy that I still have my work.” For her, work meant everything. (…) Thanks to her work, her children did not stop going to school after the fire. This work has given her a new life and a new way to begin living with her children in peace. After that tragedy, (…) she composed herself because she had work and that is what she values most. That work is what has given her the courage to rise from the ashes of her burnt house.“