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How to Cultivate Empathy from Afar

by Kate Holby September 16, 2021 2 Comments

How to Cultivate Empathy from Afar

Sara and I haven’t been to Kenya in almost two years. Since 2019 we both have had (or are about to have) children. There was, and is, of course, a pandemic. And we’ve been short-staffed packaging orders and running a small business. We’ve been trying to keep everything moving forward when at times it feels like we’ve just been walking in place.

Sometimes balancing life and work feels like this label

Sara, Ann, and I have an almost twelve-year relationship with the Ajiri community in Kenya. We’ve watched our Ajiri scholars grow up and graduate and we still receive e-mails and phone calls and texts with life updates from our former students. Moses is enjoying nursing school. Reuben recently got a job as a receptionist. Alice just had a baby. Shilla is loving Kenyatta University in Nairobi. James just graduated and is an automotive engineer. Winstone just got married.

We receive weekly updates from the women’s groups that Difna and Regina visit nearly every week. Agnes is making new animal label designs. Florence is busy beading new spoons. Dorothy opened a used clothing business. Christine continues to be busy making labels and working in her hair salon. Christine, Agnes, Moses, Shilla, Winstone---these are people we know. We know their families. We know what dusty road takes us to their villages. We know to turn left after the maize and tea crops to get to Alice’s home.

 Winstone and Moreen were married this past year. 


So it has been a strange past few years as our community has grown without us and life keeps moving forward. We’ve never met the nine new Ajiri scholars. We know about them. We know that they are determined, that they are tenacious, that they are kind (all prerequisites to becoming an Ajiri scholar). And we know that they are in need of the stability and opportunities that the scholarship brings. But we don’t know that hint of mischievousness, that quick hand-covering laugh, that conflicting bravery and shyness--we don’t know the adjectives not described through emails and phone calls. In other words, we don’t know them. We know of them.    

As I think about how our community in Kenya is growing and we are growing in parallel a world away, my mind turns to all of you, our customers. Having not been to Kenya in two years, my work is no longer driven so much by the deep empathy for people I know. Rather, I am waking up and moving forward driven by this larger idea of a world that I want to know. This distance has made it harder to stay motivated. It has made it harder to package tea boxes and ship orders. But then I think of you.

You, our customers, don’t know any of these people. You don’t know Moses. You don’t know his brother, Kevin, who aspires to be a professional soccer player. You don’t know Sharon who is on her way to medical school. You don’t know Thomas who is smart and mischievous and kind and all of the contradictions that a 12 year-old boy can be. And yet, you are still here. Right beside us. You not only have this reserve of empathy evident in your messages and words of encouragement, you pull all of your empathy and compassion together into action---you purchase Ajiri Tea. You navigate our clunky website and you place an order.

You might not know the rolling green hills of Kisii, Kenya, but you some of you know, or can imagine, just how hard it is to grow up and go through school without parents. You don’t know the women who make the labels, but you know just how much belief and income can change a life.

And so as I feel further and further away from Kenya, these days I am inspired by all of you. You continue to believe in us and our community, and many of you have never met us. I know Covid is still here, the news is still hard, and many of you feel heavy. So thank you, for reserving a small amount of empathy and belief in our community and our company.

Kate, Sara, and Ann

 




Kate Holby
Kate Holby

Author


2 Responses

Atuta Moses
Atuta Moses

November 12, 2021

Wow, these are great words indeed. So happy to have people like you in my life, you have impacted my life largely that I can not think of what price will be equivalent to your generosity. Proud of you

Linda Bedford
Linda Bedford

November 12, 2021

I have been amazed at what you have all achieved; an idea developed in Kenya and on the dock at the Lake. You were always so sure it would work. Ajiri (tea and coffee) is the first thing I get if I need a thank you gift, thinking of you gift, or a “Shoot! We are out again!” refill. I buy it because the product is excellent and the icing on the cake is how the purchase helps those from the tea fields to the schools. Thank you for dreaming big!

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