‘Iâ€™ve always been passionate about children’ says Nele. Â ‘Whether it’s children in Africa or helping youth in general.’ Â GoodMakers met Nele this past summer when she worked alongside our GoodMakers Street Team,Â helping to teach music and dance workshops for Flying Kites Global to hundreds of orphaned children in the Nairobi slums.
What struck us immediately about Nele was how she carries herself with a maturity and confidence far beyond her young years. For anyone familiar with Nairobi, this is particularly meaningful when navigating the cacophony of people, cars, mutatus (small buses) and ox driven carts. Nele has learned to travel all around Nairobi and its slums independently and safely saying light heartedly, ‘I now know my way around very well, even in the farthest reaches of Nairobi!’
Seeds of Change
Nele’s family is Belgian and had been living in Austria, later moving to the east coast of the US when she was 13 yrs old. Nele feels that being uprooted at a critical age in her development taught her how to adapt quickly to new environments and to embrace cultural differences. Nele’s parents always encouraged Nele and her younger sister to keep a global outlook and emphasized that change starts at home. Â This global outlook on life translated to Nele pursuing a degree in International Affairs with a minor in sociology and anthropology. Â After Nele graduated from college she saved up her money working odd jobs and left for what was to have been a 6 month stay in Kenya, pursuing her lifelong dream of helping vulnerable children in Africa.
Nele started by volunteering at various non-profit and educational organizations including for Flying Kites Global, taught English at a high school, created training materials for Â school managers at Bridge International Academies, a for-Ââ€profit organization that starts high-Ââ€quality primary schools in the slums, and continued to spend time with children Â and youth, learning about issues facing them, as well as their hopes and dreams for the future. Nele points out that while images and stories of life in the slums might seem Â incredibly sad and though they often are, Â its people Â are remarkably resilient. Â Nele says, ‘I find myself in utter awe of their strength. Â They not only manage to survive and provide Â for their families, they even help their friends and neighbors whenever possible, all despite the great obstacles facing them.’
Modeling Youth Activism
It was when Nele was imbedded with the GoodMakers Street Team during our music and dance workshops, that she experienced the magic of combining arts and activism. Â Nele was key to the GoodMakers team’s success connecting with the children in an authentic way due to her warm and genuine relationship with the children. She was also instrumental in helping GoodMakers to establish a sustainable Creative Arts Program for Rehema Orphanage and Children’s School in the Korogocho slum lead by local professional dance troop Dashy Krew
(Update From Rehema!: Dashy Krew | GoodMakersFilms
). Â Nele attends the weekly classes, reporting back on the program’s progress and ensuring that the program meets with the needs of the children.
Nele also assisted with establishing the GoodMakers Education and Mentorship Program for Rehema students, single handedly raising funds to enable four students and a chaperone to attend a three day youth conference hosted at the UN in Nairobi. Â Nele later accompanied several of the girls who were invited to be guests on a local talk show to highlight their leadership, and to share how they raised funds for starving Kenyans by selling chickens from the orphan’s chicken coop (Â Video of Lavender and her Friends Discussing Their Assistance to Kenyans for Kenya | GoodMakersFilms
).Â Together, Nele and GoodMakers helped to secure donors who have pledged funds to pay secondary school fees in 2012 for four Rehema students, with the goal of renewing that commitment until their educational goals are reached. In typical Nele fashion, she downplays her role and says,’I am inspired by anyone, young or old, who dares to follow their dreams and live a life of service, love and joy.’
Making Nairobi Home
Nele says that she has fallen in love with Kenya and its people and that she feels a sense of peace, purpose and belonging that she hadn’t felt anywhere else before. Not surprisingly, Nele plans to call Nairobi home for the indefinite future! Â She is starting an organization empowering orphaned and vulnerable children and youth in Kibera, East Africa’s largest slum. Nele feels that the time she has spent learning about issues facing orphaned and vulnerable children and youth will serve her well as she embarks on this exciting new chapter and feels honored to have been invited in by the community itself. Â She intends to work with and fully involve the people of Kibera in any and all initiatives, so as to prevent imposing her own ideas which she feels is key to maintaining an organization that best serves the youth.GoodMakers congratulates Nele for modeling activism that is creating dynamic change… Go Nele Go!!!