I don't know what you were doing at 23, but I had just moved into my first apartment and was a newbie teacher. My weekends were filled with concerts, scouring flea markets, and the occasional blind date. I was focused on having fun and paying my light bill on time.
Not so for Nate Kaunley. He was living in Nairobi, Kenya working to help kids living on the streets. Nate and I went to college together and both worked part-time jobs at the Sheraton Hotel during senior year. Post college, his story gets pretty interesting and far from typical for your average college grad.
In 2006 when he was just in his early 20's, Nate founded Dusty Feet International, a grassroots organization fighting human trafficking in the Nairobi slums.
"The dust of Africa will never leave the soles of your feet." This was the proverb that inspired the name of the organization.
Recently I sat down with Nate and asked him 8 questions:
Q: When was your first trip to Kenya?In June 2005, my junior year in college, I traveled to Kenya to study abroad.
Q: Can you share one moment from that trip that changed you?I volunteered with a local HIV/AIDS NGO. Every member of the organization was infected with the virus - with the exception of me. The organization was small but effective. We interacted casually as friends. I quickly assimilated and was considered an organization member. We traveled together, met with government officials, and educated communities about HIV and AIDS.
When it was time for me to leave, some of the members were crying. Someone asked me, "Do you know why we are crying?" I assumed it was because I was leaving without promise of return; it seemed simple enough. Some of the team members explained that it was not because I was leaving but because I was the first person to physically touch them who was not HIV positive. This revelation taught me about pain, love, and discrimination in a whole new way. It will never leave me.
Q: In all honesty, it seems pretty gutsy that a recent college grad from Missouri would tackle issues of poverty and human trafficking in Africa. What gave you the confidence that this could work?One of the most significant influences of working for the HIV/AIDS NGO was to understand the power of local resources. I knew I would not be able to tackle the problem by myself. Our first objective was to find local people who understood the issues we were targeting.
Resilient.Within our first month in Kenya, we found Patrick and Freddie, two guys raised in the slums looking for a way to improve their community. Once we partnered with Patrick and Freddie, I had the confidence to move forward. We are still working together, seven years later.
Q: Finish this sentence: The people of Kenya are_____________.
Q: You're from Middle America, yet you're now working with and for people very different than yourself. What were some of the initial challenges of building trust with locals?It didn't take long for me to trust Patrick and Freddie or for them to trust me. Very quickly we were placed in situations that required each one of us to trust our lives to one another. When the community saw that we were building an organization with local leadership we were able to gain community support quickly. Empowerment and Local Leadership are two of our core values. As long as we are maintaining this standard and not practicing nonprofit imperialism, I believe we will maintain trust.
Q: When I first heard about the for-profit business side of DF, I was intrigued...but also confused. In a nutshell, how does that work?
We are focused on building a sustainable nonprofit. If we cannot walk away from the organization within a few years, without out it crumbling, we have failed. In order to financially sustain the organization we need a consistent source of funds. Donors are unreliable and grants are never guaranteed. If we create a business, which produces profit we have found our source.
This video gives you just a glimpse of how this organization is radically shaping the communities of Kenya, empowering them to face the problems they face daily.For years we have been researching and studying business models we think will benefit the community and produce profit. We think we have found that business and will be implementing as soon as we have the funding to do so. If the business produces a profit, we use the profit to subsidize the operating costs of Dusty Feet, which will eliminate the need for donors to sustain the program.
Q: How do you keep your team, literally separated by an ocean, communicating on point and moving forward with a common focus?Our greatest challenge is the distance between teams. It is necessary in order to move toward local sustainability, but it creates obstacles. We rely on email, Facebook, Skype, and cell phones. Over the last six months we have worked on a plan to increase effective communication and we hope to initiate it within the next month. Our strength is our collective motivation to fight against injustice.
Q: What's ahead for DF in the next 3 years?Sustainability or bust! We will find out if our model will work. Can an international group work with a local group to address a problem, work together, develop a sustainable funding source found locally, phase out the international group, and continue to fight the problem without any foreign dependency? We shall find out.
Ok, so a typical reader on this site is drinking her morning coffee, catching up on emails, and now she sees what Dusty Feet is doing...What are some ways she can be a part of the change happening in Kenya?Go to www.dustyfeetonline.com - We have information, videos, and resources for people who want to stay involved. Of course, we are always taking donations to help us move toward sustainability as well.
As Mindy Greaves of Fight for Them said, "We can't do everything. But we must do something." Maybe your "something" is just reading more about Dusty Feet's mission and spreading the word. Maybe it's donating the price of a couple lattes to an organization that is literally rescuing kids from the clutches of human traffickers.
A bit heavy for a Wednesday? Maybe. One of my "somethings" is writing posts like this. I'll be back next week with a recipe and fun DIY. But today is a day to focus on the "least of these"... and those doing something to help them.