It’s astonishing that in today’s age there is still not a good resource for finding local, charitable and sustainable information for how to travel around the globe on your own. Well that’s what I am here for! Today I am bringing you the best of Kenya. It’s a full guide for how to Journey beyond the Bucket List, so your trip is full of connection and meaning. With these tips, you are sure to come away with a local interaction and a positive impact. I have also included tips for how to plan a cheaper, but equally rewarding “DIY Safari!”
Mathare Youth Sports Assocation
“MYSA” empowers young people in Nairobi’s slums to fulfill their dreams through sports education. They have several leagues, mainly focusing on football (the country’s main love affair). Their programs have grown so much since 2007 that they now have a professional league! Contact them to stop by. Perhaps you want to view a match, take part in a practice, or volunteer more long-term!
Alive and Kicking
It’s very likely that the balls used at MYSA were donated by Alive and Kicking. This social enterprise employs and trains Kenyans to make soccer balls that are made of local leather, able to withstand the rugged terrain. The balls also carry social messages such as HIV prevention. Alive and Kicking donates balls to NGO’s through various awareness events and sells them at reasonable prices in supermarkets throughout the country. You can visit their workshop outside of Nairobi. Here is a short video to get acquainted with their work!
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
A fairytale, family-success story, this baby elephant and rhino rehabilitation center was started by the wife of David Sheldrick, founding warden of the Tsavo East National Park. The center, now run by their daughter Angela, has successfully hand-raised over 150 orphaned infant elephants and rhino’s – releasing them back into the wild herds of Tsavo. Their generosity expands outward, taking their trust’s activities to the community through several outreach programs, including the development of local schools and clubs. I love this family! Because of their commitment to their serious programs, they do not allow volunteers, but welcome daily visitors in late morning when the nursery animals come for their daily mud-baths. You can also foster a baby elephant!
The DIY Safari
I can’t talk about Kenya and not mention safaris as a great way to support the conservation efforts and livelihood of the country. Most people book an all-inclusive package through a tour company and don’t think too much further. Although your general support helps to boost the economy, there are some cheaper ways you can organize your trip with the confidence that your dollars are going straight to the organizations in need and to the Kenyans who run them. The best way is to go directly through the local parks and camps, without the use of a foreign-based “middle man.” Scroll down to the Accommodations section later on in this post for some great tools for finding where to stay within the parks. If you prefer to have the comfort of a company who knows the ins-and-outs of the country and can provide you with travel insurance, transportation and peace-of-mind, I would highly recommend partnering with a company that is directly linked to conservation projects and not a big foreign chain. Some great options are listed in the Travel Company section! You should also make sure they are members of KATO.
Did you know that most parks allow you to rent your own vehicle and drivers for creating your own safaris? It’s true! You can rent your own 4×4, and even add a driver/guide for a much cheaper rate than using a middleman. Most rental companies require you to give your exact itinerary plans when renting the vehicle – so this option will require some research and advanced planning on your part to find a good driver/guide ahead of time. But if your budget is tight and you’re the adventurous type…it’s a great option!
If you’re up for a DIY safari, here are some important tips to keep in mind:
There are a slew of parks in Kenya. KATO is a great tool for getting acquainted with them all so you can chose your itinerary. Click here for their list!
Most park fees are charged by the day. The larger parks, like Maasai Mara, are around $70, but some smaller parks like Nairobi National Park are around $50 per day. If you are driving your own vehicle, most gates also charge an extra entry fee for this as well.
Let’s face it, your guide makes or breaks your experience… so it’s really important to find a good one! Going with a freelanced guide is your cheapest option, but the search for one can be time consuming. Once you find one though, they can help with planning out your itinerary and connecting with local 4×4 rental companies they know personally. A great way to narrow your search is to make sure that your guide is licensed with the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association. They have a certification system with bronze, silver and gold ratings. In order to get a silver or gold qualification, a guide needs to know about wildlife, including flora and fauna, as well as politics and culture.
I did some research for you to get you started (your welcome)…
Paul Kirui: Gold-level freelance guide born on the edge of the Maasai Mara game reserve. He may be a bit pricier, as he has been nominated by Condé Naste Traveler as the 4th of the 25 best guides in Africa!
Wilson Ole Kasaine: One of 24 children, his father is a famed hunter of the Maasai Mara tribe. He has been noted by Condé Naste among others as high quality. Although he is associated with the Porini Amboseli Camp, you can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shop for a Cause
Each week, Kenyan green coffee is sold to exporters through agents at a government-run auction at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. It is known to be the most transparent system in the industry, establishing a pricing hierarchy based on quality. Many feel that this system fetches the best price for the farmers, but many producers feel that fewer middlemen would increase farmer profits. Vava Angwenyi wanted to go a step further – to keep the coffee within Kenya for roasting and distributing to international markets under Kenyan brands. Thus Vava was born…
Vava Angwenyi’s passion to help grow Kenya’s coffee market as a woman is not only breaking cultural barriers, but is helping to slowly reshape the way coffee is exported out of Kenya. Her coffee is not yet available internationally, but make sure to pick up a bag at one of her retail outlets around Nairobi. As an ambassador of Kenya and its local coffee industry, she has also arranged for groups to tour local coffee farms and milling centers – so reach out to her if you are interested in learning more!
You may be shocked to know that over 90% of Kenyans are employed in the informal sector, barely earning enough to survive. One of these informal sectors is the female-dominated arts and crafts industry. Sadly, these women take home only about 10% of profits because of the difficulties in supply chain. In response, Nairobi has a good number of artisan studios that work in coordination with charitable development projects or as full social enterprises. It’s a great way to purchase local wares for your home while supporting the community. While you’re perusing, make sure to interact with the artisans. You may be surprised what a small conversation can turn into! I have listed only my favorites below that have both high-quality items and great social causes:
Anselm Kitengela Hot Glass
Social Cause: fair-trade employment, training and apprenticeships for locals, as well as school and community center support. Their designs are gorgeous!
Social Cause: known by many as simply the “rug gallery,” they train over 468 single mothers from the Kibera slums how to create high-end textiles using their traditional techniques. I love this article on them.
Shop from Home with Soko
If you can’t make it to Kenya…shop Soko online!
Ella Peinovich and Catherine Mahugu launched Soko as a way for artisans to directly connect to reliable and fair international markets through Soko’s mobile platform. Soko efficiently manages logistics including quality assurance, collection and shipping – ultimately making the craft cheaper for the consumer as well. Their website is a dream to browse through. You can sort through gorgeous handcrafted jewelry knowing that you are directly impacting the artisan who created it. It’s a great way to impact Kenya from home on a regular basis. They also have a great blog, which just announced that their co-founder Catherine Mahugu was named one of Forbes’ 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa for 2015!
While in Kenya, do as the Kenyans do… eat at a nyama choma. Chose your preferred cut of meat in its raw state before its barbequed up! While you wait, order a couple of bottles of Tusker (order it “baridi” meaning cold). There are several nyama choma around Nairobi’s neighborhoods, just pop in!
A cool-hip vibe with couches and fireplaces, Lazy Bones is located at Camp Carnelley’s – a campground on the banks of Lake Naivasha. Although not a true Social Enterprise, I had to include this restaurant because it is local, relaxed, sustainable…and has great food of course! It is also known to bring people of all walks of life together. You will often find resident NGO workers gathering at Lazy Bones, which is a great way to get acquainted with the country when first arriving or out exploring Kenya’s diverse landscapes.
Brown’s Cheese Farm
Started by expats over 40 years ago who were craving brie and couldn’t get it through the border controls, they decided to go into the cheese business right inside the country. The farm was ground breaking at the time and is credited for bringing cheese to Kenya. The daughter now runs the family-owned business and is helping to put Kenya on the world gourmet map. She works very closely with over 50 dairy farmers to improve their standards, ultimately benefiting the country as a whole. You can visit the facility and enjoy a tasting lunch at their farm. It’s a great way to tour and dine, but advance booking is required.
STAY AT ETHICAL HOTELS AND LOCAL INNS
They are tons of options when it comes to accommodations in Kenya, especially in the parks and reserves. Ecotourism Kenya has a rating system, awarding lodging properties with a bronze, silver or gold status based on best practices. Their full list of rated hotels, inns and lodges can be found here! It helps take the guess work out of your selection process. Their website also has an downloadable Ecotourism guide.
TOUR WITH THE RIGHT KIND OF COMPANY
If you do decide to travel to Kenya with a middle man – chose one who is grounded in community projects, that lead to cultural exchange for both you and the locals in a positive way. The below are just a few of my favorites:
Do you want to not only learn about the wildlife in Kenya, but also spend time with its indigenous tribes? Erica Hermsen, a scientist and conservationist, founded Miradi Wild in early 2014 with the goal of connecting travelers with conservation projects in Kenya. Their immersive journeys engage travelers with grassroots organizations that also provide cultural exchange opportunities. To give you an idea, one of their Partner Projects includes a home stay in the village Merrushi, where travelers live with the locals and embark on walking safaris with the nomadic Maasai tribal people. It’s a well balanced and unique approach! I can’t think of a better way to Journey beyond the Bucket List in Kenya than joining their Maasai Warrior Training Experience arranged in cooperation with Crooked Trails. The program is administered by well-trained Maasai warriors. Some of the lessons on the agenda are: crafting and using a Maasai club, animal tracking, fire making, using medicinal and culinary plants, and even slaughtering and preparing a goat! It’s a journey like no other…and it’s tax deductible.
Africa Yoga Project
Paige Elenson saw that Kenya was in need of yoga. A country full of anger yet brimming with hope, Paige knew that yoga would both inspire its people and provide a new market where wellness could change lives and provide jobs to the otherwise unemployable. Today, the Africa Yoga Project provides over 300 free yoga classes throughout Kenya in slums, prisons, HIV treatment centers, schools and orphanages. They have trained and employed over 100 yoga teachers to date. The organization holds an annual trip called the Seva Safari (meaning “selfless service journey” in Sanskrit and Swahili) where raised funds include your trip to their Shine Center to see the impact of yoga in nearby slums. Days are filled with yoga instruction, time engaging with the local community, as well as a safari and other outdoor activities in Kenya’s beautiful nature to help local communities through eco-tourism.
Even if you don’t read any further about the amazing people and companies in this guide…please, please, please don’t miss this video created by Lulu Lemon and Africa Yoga Project. It’s inspiring.
Running for more than a decade, African Impact grew from humble beginnings and still maintains its commitment to responsible tourism today. Their large team is grounded by their ideals. They develop projects alongside local communities, employ Kenyans to facilitate programs and trips, maintain strict policies for child protection and safety, and ensure their volunteer programs facilitate meaningful and useful projects to benefit both the volunteer and the project. I really like their direct work with the Koiyaki Guiding School, which empowers young members of the Maasai tribe to enter into the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association (KPSGA). But they have other great ones in Kenya as well!
Kenya has a slew of social enterprises to volunteer with. I am not going to lists too many specific projects, for fear of leaving out just one amazing cause! But, here are some good resources to help you get started in your search. These sites list several social enterprises and projects in Kenya that may be a great match for your skills!
Using their expertise and volunteers in the developing world, Techno Serve builds competitive farms, businesses and industries by connecting impoverished people to information, markets and capital. With more than four decades of proven results, they have shown that there is power in the private enterprise! They have numerous projects throughout Kenya, including my favorite – their Coffee Initiative (supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). Click here to learn about their work in Kenya and volunteer opportunities.
Working with support from Barclays and run by entrepreneur Helen Gibbons, ClearlySo is a new entity based in Kenya to service East Africa. Helen is providing support to social businesses and enterprises across East Africa and has already begun a series of Social Investment Live Pitch sessions! Click to view their social enterprise clients for some ideas of who you could partner with.
East Africa Social Enterprise Network
This member organization, which supports enterprises throughout East Africa, has their full member list on their site. This is a great resource for finding your passion. Click here to discover them all!
Ashoka Innovators for the Public
Ashoka selects its “Fellows” through a rigorous search and selection process. These leading social entrepreneurs are recognized for their bold new ideas and compassion for tremendous change in the world. Their Fellows for Kenya are fantastic! I was so inspired clicking through all of the remarkable people’s stories – it made my heart happy. Don’t miss out…you may find your next volunteering opportunity – visit Ashoka’s Fellows for Kenya.
…And there you have it – my guide (so far) to Kenya. I trust these social businesses and movements will inspire you to plan your trip in a meaningful way, bringing you closer with Kenya’s people and its landscapes. No matter how you chose to travel in the country, I hope you push yourself out of your comfort zone and come away having impacted one Kenyan before you return home.
Happy travels…beyond the bucket list
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela
Feature Photo Credit: Thinkstock/istock/ debsthel