In 2006, our hearts broken for the orphans of Kenya yet rejoicing in the opportunity for some of them to be welcomed home and loved by our dear friends Pastor and Mama Karau, my friend Debbie Lee and I started Pamba Toto. Our goal was to generate funding for Hope’s Promise’s Sanctuary of Hope orphan homes of Nairobi, Kenya.
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After hearing about Pamba Toto’s work in Kenya through a personal connection in the small town of Sheridan, WY, we were anxious to introduce ourselves to Debbie and Colleen! We are now excited to call Pamba Toto a part of the BB family, and are even more excited to share their story!
Tell us about the history of Pamba Toto.
Debbie and I (Colleen) have never been the same after a few short weeks in 2002. Debbie Lee and her husband Brian are long-time directors of the InterVarsity Global Project to Kenya; and in the summer of 2002, I joined them and led a team of six college and two high school students in serving at the Mother Teresa Home for Abandoned Children in Nairobi as part of the project. The year before, my husband Dave and I adopted our son from the same orphanage. We wanted them to witness both the horror of poverty that scarred our hearts forever when we claimed our son, and also the mystery of the Mother Teresa sisters, serving in destitution with unrivaled joy.
Our friendship deepened along with our passion for the orphaned children of Kenya. We were primed and ready to do anything we could to help when one of our closest mutual friends, Mama Karau, expressed a dream in 2005 to open a small home for orphans. Hope’s Promise, a Colorado-based non-profit, agreed to oversee the home and hired Pastor and Mama Karau as house-parents and Country Coordinators.
Debbie and I and our families spread the vision far and wide amongst our network; and funding accumulated. Still, we searched for ideas for how we could personally generate money to open and sustain the home. As an artist, I most longed to invest my creative skills. Unbeknownst to Debbie, I began to dream of making jewelry to raise money for SoH. Debbie called me soon after the idea came to me, in early 2006. Debbie explained that she had decided to sell jewelry to raise money for SoH. “Do you think I’m crazy?” she asked me.On the other end of the line, in disbelief, my heart rate accelerated, “Well, do you think I’m crazy, because I’ve just decided to make jewelry for the same reason?!”
Debbie and I are still in awe that simultaneously and independently of one another, we received a vision to make and sell jewelry to raise awareness and funds for SoH. We started out just selling what I could make, but soon realized we could also generate economic development in Kenya by stocking items made by Kenyan artisans.
We feel like we are hanging on to God’s coat tails as He expands the mission. Pamba Toto now encompasses various “lines” of jewelry and home products, including the pieces that I design and make, as well as crafts and jewelry made by women in Nairobi slums, and projects created by the twenty-four* Sanctuary of Hope children themselves. We’re on a steep learning curve concerning marketing, consumer preferences, how to empower Kenyan crafts-people, how to send mobile “stores” to volunteer sellers, etc. But through it all, our goal remains the same: to raise awareness and maximize profits so that we can donate as much as possible for the benefit of some of our favorite kids in the world!
What are some of the trials and triumphs you have faced in bringing your organization to where it is today?
One of our most fun projects was implemented for a women’s half-marathon in Colorado. This particular project illustrates well our general trials and triumphs – we experienced great joy in training and paying the women to do the work and in generating funds for Sanctuary of Hope. We navigated issues of how to obtain supplies, calculating fair wages for the women; quality control procedures; communication from half-a-world away; and timing from when an order is placed, to production on another continent, to delivery in the US. While joyful and a wonderful learning opportunity for us and for the women, the project leaves us with a remaining trial – creating demand and sustainability so that the women always have productive projects in the pipe-line.
A recent “triumph project” is the “SoH Heart Painting.” Penny Taylor, a good friend of Pamba Toto, served with a Hope’s Promise Short Term Mission team in Kenya last year. We sent her over with paint and canvas, and she worked with each SoH child to paint a heart in a section of the painting. She christened the artwork “Many Hearts, One Family.” As Pamba Toto sells fine art giclee prints of the piece, profits return to directly benefit the young artists!
One of our BB workers came across this painting in a church in Sheridan,WY last week, and immediately recognized it as Pamba’s. What a joy it is to see the work of the Lord spreading world wide — from Kenya to Wyoming!
How have you seen God provide for Pamba Toto?
Before Pamba Toto or SoH began, in 2005 I spent 7 ½ months in Kenya adopting our daughter from the Mother Teresa orphanage. Near the end of my sojourn, a dear mutual friend of mine and Debbie’s, Mama Karau, told me about a very ill member of Mathare Worship Centre, the church she and her husband pioneered in the second largest slum in Nairobi. The woman, HIV+, begged Mama Karau to take care of her twin babies when she died.
Mama Karau and I and Debbie began to dream together of a vision Mama had carried close toher heart for many years, a small home for orphans. I spoke with the Director of Hope’s Promise, the adoption agency which helped us adopt our
Kenyan children and also operates small family homes for orphans around the world; and the organization agreed to open an orphan care ministry in Kenya. Then, in 2008, in an unbelievable miracle, a church contacted Hope’s Promise out-of-the-blue. They connected through friends of friends to a man who once traveled to Kenya with Brian and Debbie. Unbeknownst to Brian and Debbie, the church formed relationships in Kenya based on the man’s referral; and, while serving in Kenya in other capacities, a team happened to visit Sanctuary of Hope. They were so moved by the love of the SoH family that they decided to track down Hope’s Promise and ask if they could fund the opening and one year of operations for a second home!
As an organization, what are you most excited about right now?
We are incredibly grateful for a group of students at the Rocky Mountain College of Montana who are involved with Enactus and chose Pamba Toto as the recipients of their efforts. Enactus is “an international organization that connects students, academic and business leaders through entrepreneurial-based projects that empower people to transform opportunities into real, sustainable progress for themselves and their communities.” The students wrote a business plan for Pamba Toto and secured grants through The Coca Cola Foundation’s Uncap Opportunities for Women and Sam’s Club Step Up for Small Business. These funds provided much needed Quick-books and training as well as an I-Pad and Square Cube.
We can’t wait to see what the future holds for you! What are some of your hopes and goals for 2015?
Last year, we partnered with the Texas PTA to provide $7000 of pre-purchased inventory for a conference. We would love to see these types of opportunities expand as more people hear about our products and the ministry we support. A huge step forward toward this goal and also toward empowering more volunteer sellers is working with Enactus to set up Quick-books.
We are also excited about a couple key Kenyan women who are raising up artisan co-ops for women in slums. We hope to increasingly bring products from these co-ops to market through Pamba Toto, thereby generating economic development and indirectly easing the orphan problem as women are able to remain healthy and adequately provide for their children.
Ultimately, we want to increase our donations steadily so that funding for the two existing homes stabilizes and a third (and more) homes can be opened.
Want to know how you can help?
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Shortly after writing this blog, we heard about the loss of 147 Christian students in Kenya, who had been singled out and killed because of their faith. In the midst of such tragedy, we were comforted by the words of Colleen’s open letter to the terrorists who committed the crime. Read her letter here, and join us in praying for the Kenyan communities who have been so tragically affected by this event.