Malezi Parents Ready to Launch

Miss the previous Malezi update? Read it here.

I just wired my partners in Nairobi a generous donation I recently received from my new friends at the Yoga Creative Center in Alghero, a small town in the northwest of Sardinia off the coast of Italy.

Because of it, a group of parents — single mothers mostly, who live in extreme poverty — with children who attend the Malezi School, now have the necessary funds to start a cake baking business that will change their lives by providing much needed financial empowerment.

This is a sign, true to our vision, that Malezi is turning into a platform for community transformation in an environment where you'd least expect it—Kitui Ndogo, one of the harshest, most dangerous slums in Nairobi.

Being the Change

It was about three months ago when I first received word that this group of 26 parents, formally known as the Malezi Parents Initiative (MPI), had formed to work on a business idea in an effort to improve their financial wellbeing.

In all, 2.2 billion people lived on less than $2 a day in 2011.
— World Bank research

These are individuals who all subsist on $1 or less/day mainly through on and off again "casual labor." All have children who attend the Malezi School and, suffice it to say, are not that constructively involved in their lives.

You might wonder, as I did, why anybody would have a child living in such a significant state of poverty?

Lack of education is the primary contributing factor, poor impulse control while intoxicated, and in the case of women, there is a hope that by connecting with a man, he will stay around to take care of the family (which doesn't  happen usually).

When I heard that a group of parents had joined together, started a savings program even, and were intending to launch a business under the supervision of Malezi volunteers and partners, I became very inspired. This is powerful change, I thought.

  We launched a new Malezi Centre early in 2014.

We launched a new Malezi Centre early in 2014.

We founded the Malezi Centre early in 2014 in a spirit of "Care, Love, and Values." If you've read at all about its founder and Headmistress, Teacher Grace Kavoi, then you'd understand Malezi — which began in 1998 as a free daycare center for less than 10 children out of Grace's one-room slum shanty — was born from her selfless desire to serve neglected children and uplift her struggling community.

Now, with our two-story facility covered in vibrant artwork, the many teachers and volunteers, an organized management team, and 145 students, the center is becoming a kind of power station emitting a current into the community, which in ripple effect fashion, is inspiring residents to be the change on their own.

That's the thing about the MPI. I didn't have anything to do with it. My partners in Nairobi didn't initiate it either. The community started it on their own. Specifically the volunteers of Malezi, to try and address the problems these parents face.

Funding for the Business

The budget to purchase all the necessary cake baking equipment was $1,700, which is an astronomical amount of money considering the group's combined daily earnings of $26.

What inspired me more besides the creation of the group itself, was the fact that the members started a savings program to reach their goal, with each contributing a minimum of 50 KES or .50 cents/week. It's such a clear statement of how committed they are.

Times 26 members, that's a total of $13/week saved, which means it would take just under three years for the parents to reach their $1,700 goal.

Naturally, I wanted to get involved so they wouldn't have to save for so long and committed to raising 70% or $1,200 of the startup costs. However, if you read about my "Year in Turmoil," then you'd know I hadn't been in such good touch with my base of supporters nor really feeling that connected to my work.

For these reasons plus some instinctive sense, I was not moved to start a grassroots fundraising campaign as I normally do but I did write about the goal on this blog, shared it once in a newsletter, and spoke to a few people I'm close to individually. No donations resulted from these efforts.

Then, one morning, I awoke to an email alerting me of a donation from the Yoga Creative Center (YCC) in Sardinia (the one I mentioned before). It was unexpected and thrilling. This was the kind of magic I had become so used to these past few years, and it was good to experience it again.

* * *

I spoke with the center's founder, Keren Bensoussan, and we agreed to apply a portion of the contribution to an orphaned Malezi student, Elijah, and the rest to the parents and their business expenses.

I've never met Keren before and so I asked her how she found out about me. The internet. Somehow she stumbled on one of my blogs a few years ago, got interested in Living Smile work for its "integrity," and has been following along ever since. But it wasn't until now that we formally connected.

The Living Smile immediately caught our eye as it seemed to be based in the kind of Truth we believe to be pure. As we continue to work on our own selves, we find that helping others from a place of love enriches us even more so. We are really happy to be able to contribute.
— Keren E. Bensoussan, Founder of Yoga in Alghero ACSD

Keren has had an interesting life journey. She was born in Tel Aviv, graduated from my alma mater, New York University, did some acting in Los Angeles, then taught in Paris and various parts of Italy before having a spiritual awakening during a trip to India where, it seems to me, she received a calling to be of service.

Following that trip, she felt compelled to start a yoga center in Sardinia, where, similar to an ashram, people who are committed to a path of yoga and deeper meaning can come to practice together and find community.

Every so often, the members of the YCC convene for a "benefit sadhana" and collect money in a devotional spirit (similar to the bhava concept, I've written about before), in order to help support a non-profit cause. It's a kind of karma yoga, where their service is not just seen as help but as a method of personal transformation to foster greater connection with the Divine.

Funds donated in this spirit, like the donation I received once in honor of an individual who underwent lifesaving surgery, I believe have a particular vibration, which affects the beneficiary in a similar fashion. You can feel the intent.

The most recent (again, unasked for) donation from YCC came from one of these benefits and when coupled with the parents' own savings, a donation from another organization, and a government loan, the MPI now has enough money to launch their business!

It seems I was the middle man between the purity of the parents' intent and the purity of the yoga center's intent. Both, in a mysterious way, found each other and gave one another the opportunity to serve.


The timing of this occurrence couldn't be better as it coincides with the 1st birthday of the re-launched Malezi Centre. I take it as a promising symbol of what's to come, as the center grows older and plants roots further into the community.

The parents, I'm sure, will soon be busy purchasing materials, getting setup, and baking their first cakes to be sold on the market. I look forward to sharing about their progress and especially meeting them in person when I visit in May.