How One Main Line Nonprofit is Changing Lives in Kenya
MLT photographer Tessa Smucker explores the work of the Neema Project in this photo essay.
Photos by Tessa Smucker.
I chose photography as a profession for reasons beyond simply loving the medium. But, after seven years of working in the field, I had yet to make good on them.
I traveled to Zambia with my family in high school, volunteering with an organization called Family Legacy. When I toured the Camp Life village, where dozens of children had been rescued from the streets, I remember thinking, “This is what it’s all about. If only I could tell these stories to people who haven’t had access to this world, stirring emotion that leads to compassion and ultimately changes lives.”
Then came a trip to Kitale, Kenya, this past February.
The faith-based Neema Project is an amazing organization. It picks up where childhood sponsorship leaves off, empowering the most vulnerable girls to discover their purpose and value. This isn’t just another school—girls’ lives are literally redirected through what they learn. They’re given a most valuable developing world tool: a way to support themselves through sewing.
For three years, the girls work hard in their village. In a culture run by men, where the mistreatment of women is commonplace, they are cared for and nourished, and their children are supported. The program isn’t easy, by any means. But if they stick with it, it changes the trajectory of their lives.
One of my most memorable experiences was an overnight stay at the Neema compound. Our group spent the morning and afternoon with the girls, documenting their time in classrooms and their breaks throughout the day. We ate dinner with them and walked with the second-year students to their compound, watching the sun dip behind the horizon. We drank chai tea to close the evening and had a slumber party with the house mom.
We also visited graduates—now employees making a life for themselves. One night, we were welcomed into the home of the program’s director. We milked the cow that gave us milk for chai, watched her prep a live chicken for the evening meal, and chatted as the cabbage was cut and the bread was rolled out and fried.
We squeezed inside the small living room, filling our bellies beyond capacity. Several times, I found myself consciously trying to focus on every detail, every scent. I never want to forget that evening.
To learn more about Neema, visit www.neemaproject.org.