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The Kibera slum is the largest urban slum in Africa. Recent estimates show that over 235,000 people live in the single square-mile area that makes up Kibera. Other sources suggest the total Kibera population may be as high as a half a million to well over a million people depending on which slums are included in defining Kibera. Life in Kibera is beyond challenging. Men, women, and children live in simple shacks made of sticks, mud, and tin. There’s no running water, sewage runs rampant, and most people survive on less than $1 a day. Children born in the slum of Kibera are at such a high risk of continuing the cycle of extreme poverty. Access to something as simple and basic as education can mean the difference between life and death. My guest today is doing her part to tip the scale and make a difference in the lives of kids in Kibera. Amy Ahiga is the cofounder of Grain of Rice Project, an organization that seeks to empower Kenyans through educational and training initiatives in Jesus’ name. Amy is passionate about insuring that children from marginalized and underprivileged parts of society in Kenya have access to quality education. She’s also in the process of starting a school in Nanyuki, Kenya. I actually met Amy at the Fair Trade Federation Conference last Spring and knew right away I wanted to have her on the show. I’m so excited to share this conversation with you and can’t wait for you to hear more about Amy and Grain of Rice’s work in Kibera!
Amy grew up in Indiana and began her career as a teacher there. After two years, she decided to quit her job and move to Kenya. It was a big change and a lot of people didn’t understand why she was doing it.
She lived with a Kenyan family for about eight months which really helped her learn about the culture on an authentic level. When Amy came back to the US, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do next, so she went back to teaching and visited Kenya on Summer breaks.
Amy brought her sister along on her second trip, and the two decided they wanted to get involved in a long-term situation to provide support and opportunities for Kenyan communities.
Amy and her sister started Grain of Rice Project to empower people living in Kibera with artisan training, business training, life skills, and the ability to run their own businesses. They also work with kids to help them find opportunities for education and spiritual teaching, art classes, and more.
Amy is also married to a Kenyan and she and her husband have a one-year-old son. Kenya is woven into Amy and her beautiful family’s story.
The staff of Grain of Rice Project is entirely Kenyan. It’s very important to have local people on the ground running things since they are the leaders in the community.
True change comes when those who best understand the needs of the area are running the daily operations.
This is an important thing to remember when working in developing nations. It’s a beautiful picture of how God created us to work in community and respect each other’s cultures, empowering one another with a hand up rather than a handout.
Amy recalls having a great idea to teach locals how to make beads. When she brought the supplies in, a local woman pulled jewelry out of her bag to show Amy that they already knew how to make the products but didn’t know how to sell them. It was just the humble reminder Amy needed to see her blind spot and understand the actual needs of the community.
To tackle a problem as big as poverty, we have to see the root of the need. It starts with education and access to sustainable economic opportunities. Grain of Rice Project tackles both.
It can be overwhelming to think about how to help ease poverty in a slum of over 1 million people. It’s hard work and it’s not a quick fix, but just like the name Grain of Rice, small acts add up over time to make a difference.
One of the biggest challenges in Kenyan education is that the system is set up to reward children who are good at memorizing. It celebrates children with high tests scores.
Kenya sees the need and is trying to change the education system to make it more competency based. The challenge is that teachers don’t have enough training or resources, so there is resistance to implementing the change in their own classrooms.
Grain of Rice Project wants to equip teachers with simple practices like classroom management training, arts and STEM education, and making reading fun and exciting.
Amy shares about Kenyan and American culture and what it’s like to be part of a bi-cultural and bi-racial family.
Kenyan culture is relationship-based and focuses on community and slowing down. There is a village mentality that everyone works together for the greater good.
Parents in Kenya are very intrigued when Amy reads to her young son who cannot read yet. The curiosity has been a great way to start conversations and an opportunity to learn about each other’s respective cultures.
Mealtime slows down too! Kenyans take their time with schedules and often stop what they’re doing to create hospitable and relational experiences.
Grain of Rice Project is working toward building a school in Nanyuki, Kenya. There are a lot of different tribes in the area, and it still struggles with a history of tribe-based discrimination. The vision for the school is to see a body of students made different tribes coming together to promote unity and hands-on learning.
It takes a village to complete such a big vision, and you can get involved at grainofriceproject.org . You’ll also find updates on the progress of the project as it breaks ground in early 2020.
Find out what song Amy would chose as her “walk-up” song, her perspective on wisdom and growing older, what new book she just ordered, and what it means to her to run a business with purpose!
~9:00 – “Once you’re there and you see the really amazing, positive things about the culture, you also see the need and the joy despite the need, I think it’s really hard to turn a blind eye to some of the things you’ve seen after you’ve been there.”
~10:45 – “I think it’s in those uncomfortable moments that we really do grow and we kind of learn who we were made to be.”
About Amy Ahiga, Founder of Grain of Rice Project:
Amy Ahiga is a wife, mother, former art teacher, and the co-founder of Grain of Rice Project, an organization that seeks to empower Kenyans through educational and training initiatives in Jesus’ name. Amy is passionate about ensuring children from marginalized and underprivileged parts of society in Kenya have access to quality education. She is currently in the process of starting a school in Nanyuki, Kenya. Amy divides her time between Kenya and Valparaiso, Indiana, where she resides with her husband and 1-year old son.