Alexi’s journal: First impressions of Kenya

March 7, 2018
Photo by Ben Rosser

Alexi Lubomirski gives us his thoughts and first impressions of Concern’s programming in Nairobi, Kenya, where he has joined Concern’s team on the ground.

Alexi Lubomirski — world-famous fashion photographer and Concern Celebrity Partner — is on the road with our team in Kenya. Today, he visited massive urban slums in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, to see some of the amazing things that are being accomplished in one of the world’s most challenging places.

Tell us about how you originally became involved with Concern and why.

I had made my first paycheck as a photographer and I wanted to start giving a portion to charity. I walked out of my apartment and the first person to stop me on the street was a Concern spokesman. After looking into what they did, I realized that they were perfect for what I was looking for. They had multiple programs in emergency relief going at the same time in different countries, and there were always boots on the ground whenever I saw a natural disaster or refugee crisis occur on the news.  Giving to them checked all the boxes for me.

I don’t think I knew what to expect… The whole experience has been so intense so far, but at the same time, truly inspiring.

You’ve had a whirlwind introduction to seeing Concern’s work on the ground in Kenya – what are your first impressions?

I am in awe of what Concern does here in Nairobi. The Concern team are all incredibly friendly, open, dedicated, and FULL of information. I learnt so much today about all the programs, the politics in Kenya, the problems faced, and how they are being tackled! They genuinely care about what is happening and are deeply connected to the communities that they are helping.

Photographer Alexi Lubomirski and Concern staff member Francis Mwangi

Alexi and Francis Mwangi, a Concern staff member. Photo: Ben Rosser

Tell us about some of the people you met today.

As we drove around the various sites, I met team leaders who taught me about their various specialities, such as James who explained the schooling programs in Nairobi’s slums and how parents were self-funding the 3,000 schools within this massive slum. I also met Kassim, who taught me all about the problems with malnutrition in the settlement. He explained the contrasting problem that many children are malnourished or, at the other extreme, they’re eating too much unhealthy food that is sold on the street. Leading the team is the awesome Amina who is Concern’s country director in Kenya. She is a force! She gave me an overview of all the programs in Kenya and explained the complexities of navigating politics, communities, and Concern’s desire to help.

What left the biggest impression?

There was a woman named Sharon who I met at a “community conversation” meeting. These community conversations were started by Concern to bring the community together in a sort of “town hall” environment, where people can come and discuss problems or difficulties that they or their communities face. As a group, they help each other solve issues by pooling resources and information. Sharon’s story was heart-wrenching but truly inspiring.

“Sharon is the perfect example of someone who has used her own experience to change the lives of others.”

Photographer Alexi Lubomirski hugs Sharon, a member of a community conversations group in Kenya

Alexi hugs Sharon Niona, a member of the Community Conversations group in Sinai community, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Ben Rosser

A few years ago, Sharon’s son’s behavior suddenly changed and she did not know why. It took a while before she found out that he had been sexually assaulted by someone in their community at the tender age of 6. After 3 operations, her son still has fear around men and is emotionally and mentally scarred by the horrific experience. Sharon decided that she would implement a program to help other parents and children going through the same thing. By calling her hotline, others could get help. She would come over and help them through the recovery steps, as well as make sure the children remained safe and away from the perpetrator. She also teaches parents about the telltale signs of sexual abuse.

Sharon is the perfect example of someone who has used her own experience to change the lives of others and to protect her community, making it safer for children. I was incredibly moved by her story and her personality.

How has the experience impacted you? Is it what you expected?

I don’t think I knew what to expect. So everything has been about just diving in and learning as much as possible, so that I can be better educated about what Concern does here. The whole experience has been so intense so far, in terms of all the information, but at the same time, truly inspiring. When you see communities come together and see Concern at the heart of them, it cements one’s belief in the work that Concern does, and strengthens one’s resolve to try and spread the word about what they do.

“Their stories are, at the core, the same as ours.”

People have many demands on their time — why should they care about or be interested in what happens in countries far removed from their daily experience?

Because we are all one. Their stories are, at the core, the same as ours. We all have the same goals: to be able to provide for our families, protect them from harm, feed, clothe, and educate them, and also to better ourselves and our communities. To hear people’s stories is to understand that they feel the same emotions, desires and wishes as we do. It is just as important to help others achieve their goals as it is for us to achieve ours.

Photographer Alexi Lubomirski at a school in Nairobi, Kenya

Photographer Alexi Lubomirski at Dynamic Community School in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Ben Rosser

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