Three years ago, Mónica Gil, the youngest employee at Alma en Pena and the designer for the brand, embarked on a journey full of surprises, a trip to a place in Kenya, to the Lamu Archipelago. It was the most intense volunteer trip with the NGO Afrikable.
It was a trip of solidarity of the most intense, with the NGO Afrikable, where it knew a mixture of cultures and tribes like Swahili, Orma and Maasai, that coexisted together with respect and kindness.
"I arrived with lots of shoes for the children and what surprised me most was that they would wear them inside the house and take them off before going outside, so as not to get them dirty".
She experienced both good and bad moments. What she did not know is that there were many surprises awaiting her in the future. It was meant to be.
In the mornings she would accompany her friend Monaisha to work at the NGO shop in Lamu, where they sell all the beads, quilts and fabrics which women learn to make at the NGO.
They used to talk about their lives, Monaisha's children and about how she worried about their future.
One day she invited Mónica to visit her house, as the microloans that Afrikable provides had allowed Monaisha to make improvements to her house. She was fortunate: it is one of the few stone houses on the island.
Monaisha taught Mónica to appreciate what she has even more. When Mónica entered through the iron door into her house, she was astonished. She saw a corridor of sand surrounded by two stone walls. To the left, there was a bedroom with a bed where Monaisha slept with her three children.
While some drew, others cut and others were wrong! Even the children helped us, picked up the scraps of skin and made toys, like this girl who made a jump rope!
If you carried on through the house you saw some old red curtains and that there was no roof, a hole in the ground which was the bathroom, and a little further down on the sand, there was a charcoal grill where they cooked. There was nothing else, not even a roof.
At lunch time they all ate together. There was not enough room for them to sit in chairs, but they did not mind. The food was so delicious that sitting on the floor to eat was the last of their worries. At lunch time, Mónica also learnt to appreciate everything she had in her life, since it was all so basic and primal.
Afrikable works on hygiene a lot but, even so, it is poor. At the end of the day, it could be worse.
In the afternoons they gave the children tuition classes, they did dictations, maths and drawings with the youngest children. They are tireless and eager to learn new things. This was Mónica's favourite moment, as she could speak with them, ask the typical things that people ask children and have fun.
"Spending time with these children really surprises you. They arrive at eight o'clock at the speed of light and they don't want to leave the school, they are anxious to learn"
At this NGO they deal with Fair Trade and they fight for women's empowerment. This group of women started producing original products made with local materials such as the typical coloured balls or the most beautiful ethnic fabrics.
When Mónica witnessed how they created those products at first hand, she was surprised by how they were handmade, beautiful and intricate.
She suddenly had the idea of teaching them how to make sandals. Of course, it was a mere dream which was impossible to achieve there. There were no sanding or assembly machines, nor qualified staff, not even sharp scissors.
This did not hinder the project. They looked for a way to do it. They went on a trip across the most important cities in Kenya in search of suppliers of leather, balls, lasts, scissors, dies, punches, etc. and started to practice!
We were surprised by the ability that women had with the world of footwear, it was fate. They were a few months hard, there was not much time and they had to be perfect to present at fairs. Finally the collection has been wonderful with a beautiful history behind with its joys and misfortunes, but above all with a goal: A BETTER WORLD.
Alma en Pena and Afrikable NGO work together on this project to make a better world. If you want to know more about this project or other fair trade you can visit his website.