The funddeed story begins in Kenya, at the edge of the Rift Valley, where one world seems to end and a another world begins. As vacations go, this one would be unlike any other. Two days before, there had been a Presidential election in Kenya. A highly contested election with two leaders of different indigenous ethnic tribes vying for the Presidency, and control of Kenya. The winner had yet to be announced and tensions were palpable when we arrived in Nairobi.
We were greeted by my cousin, Kevin, who’s family were living in Nairobi while he was working with a global NGO there. That evening we shared a great meal along with deep conversation as we prepared for our 3-day trip and safari to the Rift Valley and Masai Mara the next day. That evening, Kevin was occupied with conference calls with the NGO security teams who were concerned with possible violence that was expected once the results of the election were made public. Because the danger was focused between the local ethnic tribes, we decided to proceed with our plans and drive toward the Rift Valley the following morning.
We were up early and headed west with 4 adults and two teenagers packed into a 10-year-old Toyota 4-Runner. As we approach the east shoulder of the Rift Valley, it looks as if you are at the edge of another world. The road begins the long descent along the edge of the rift, slowly dropping almost 3000 feet as the view goes from stunning endlessness back to merely beautiful desolation.
Along the descent, the phone rings and the security officer informs us that the election results have been announced, and violence has already begun to erupt. We were advised to turn around and return to Nairobi. We didn’t.
We arrived in Narok, a small town about mid-way to our Masai Mara tent camp, it was early afternoon. Our first sign that things were not normal was a mass of people blocking the road into Narok. They were chanting and yelling, waving signs and flags, but it was unclear if they were celebrating, or protesting. It didn’t matter, we turned around and found another road into town.
We weaved through town and drove through an outdoor market filled with people and arrived at a small hotel that was the only multiple story building around, it was 4 stories. We got rooms on the 4th floor, had a small (and interesting) meal at the hotel, walked a bit of the market and returned as it was getting dark. No signs of unrest.
That evening we sat in our room and talked while my cousin spoke to the security and leadership teams of the NGO in his room. They were not thrilled that we had not heeded their advice to return to Nairobi. And during the call, I looked out the window and notice a small fire in the corner of the outdoor market. It could have been a cooking fire, but soon I realized it wasn’t. Soon there were other fires in the market, and within a few minutes it was clear that the market had been set ablaze.
As the fire grew, we could hear yelling and screaming and soon saw some people fleeing the market while others were rushing into it to try to save their livelihoods. It was too late. The fire spread fast and soon the entire marketplace was in flames and adjacent building were beginning to smolder. One fire vehicle, I wouldn’t call it a fire engine, rolled up the street but merely stopped and observed as there was little one small tank of water could do.
It wasn’t long before we noticed a brigade of soldiers marching down the street toward the market. They were passing just below our windows when we heard gun fire. Bam, bam bam! We all dove to the floor. I ran to the next room to get my cousin, who was sitting on the bed still on the conference call. “Did you hear that?”, I asked. He responded as he held his hand over the phone, “Be quiet! If they know we are in danger, we won’t be able to leave here. Keep everyone quiet!” We were wide-eyed, but stayed silent. The fire burned, the soldiers spread out around the market and gradually things calmed down. We later learned the gun fire was the soldiers firing into the air to disperse the crowds on the street.
The next morning things were even more tense. News of horrible violence was heartbreaking. It was the two tribes involved with the two election candidates that were being targeted. There were no foreigners or other ethnic groups. We decided the Masai Mara was probably the safest place we could be. We hadn’t had time to stock up on supplies, food or water before leaving Nairobi, so we needed to find things now in Narok. With local connections from the NGO, Kevin and I were driven to a small store on a mostly deserted street. It was closed – all the stores were closed. We waited in the car as our connection went to the large metal door. It opened slightly and he had a short conversation and then motioned to us to quickly come. The door opened a little more and we were ushered quickly inside and the door was shut and locked behind us. There were four or five other people in the store. We were told to go find what we needed and come to the front. We did. We had five or six bags of supplies and food. We paid and then went back to the door to get back to the car. We were told to go quickly and not to stop for anyone or anything. When the door opened there was now a crowd outside. We moved through the crowd some asked why we had been allowed inside the store, why they could not get in and where were we going? We walked to the car, put in the bags, got in and managed to drive away through the now busy street. We returned to the hotel and our worried family, packed up the 4-Runner and headed west again, further away from the populated areas and the violence.
We were stunned, but also strangely stimulated. Maybe adrenaline, but there was a tactile sharpness to the whole experience. We drove another few hours across the Masai Mara, seeing amazing views and animals just roaming through the bush, before we reached our tent camp that would be our base for the next couple days as we went on safari. Masai warriors protected the camp and were present at all times and on watch 24-hours, mostly for lions. Masai young men become warriors after they kill a lion, with a spear. And not a spear that you throw 15 or 20 feet to kill. No, the Masai spears have a large blade on one end, but on the other end is another long metal spike. When Masai men face a lion, they bait the lion to attack. When the lion rushes, the warrior puts the spike in the ground behind them and holds the spear across their body so that the attacking lion impales itself on the blade.
Ndebi was our guide. A Masai Warrior who looked a bit like Don Cheadle but a lot taller. He sat in the passenger seat of the 4-Runner and directed Kevin as we mostly bounced along mostly dirt and rock (not gravel) roads and paths. He spoke a little english, but could speak with his hands. He quite possibly saved our lives on a couple occasions over the next two days.
What we saw was absolutely amazing. Everything. The animals are beyond words, and without bars or moats to separate you, they take on a more visceral and meaningful quality. They are being what they are meant to be – and doing what they are meant to do. Sometimes that means killing, it always includes dying, and it’s mostly about surviving. The majesty if it all is overwhelming, and it is easy to understand why we, as people, feel threatened, and want to create safety by doing away with all threats. Only to find we are the greatest threat to ourselves. And here it all begins to come together. Nature is… as God is… It occurs. It just happens as it’s meant to happen. And it will all return to itself.
The first two days of safari was wonderful. With some breathtaking encounters, some close calls and a flat tire. Luckily the flat happened as we pulled in to a remote lodge that had a repair shop. It was fixed. And then it was all over. The phone rang and we were ordered, not asked, to return to Nairobi immediately. We were being evacuated to Tanzania.
So we headed back toward Narok. With no spare tire, we decided to stop in one of the smaller towns to see if we could get it fixed. We pulled into a public square where it looked like some other cars were being repaired. A group of men quickly surrounded us, offering their assistance. We chose two men to do the job. We failed to ask what it would cost and when the quick job of plugging and inflating the tire was done, they ask us for $100. I doubt we had $100 between us, and there was no ATM within 100 miles. Kevin has been to many parts of the world and worked in the middle of conflicts large and small. He laughed. I swallowed hard. Your move, mate.
Kevin reached in his pocket and came up with $30. He handed it to the man, who it was now clear was the leader. And he said, “Here is $30. This is more than fair for work you did for us. That’s all you are going to get.” And he stood still.
The man looked at the money. Then he glanced at the other men. Then he looked back at Kevin. And then, after what seemed like a lifetime, he threw his hands in the air and yelled “Ok!”. Or something like that. He laughed. Kevin laughed. They all laughed. I breathed. And we drove back to Nairobi with a spare tire.
The next day we were escorted by the security team to a charter plane that flew us past Mount Kilimanjaro to Arusha, Tanzania. There we were put up in a nice hotel for the next 3 days of our journey before being flown back to Nariobi to catch a flight home.
As many as 1400 people died in Kenya after those elections. While those killed were mainly members of the tribal factions, the issues that surround the violence and political power-mongering are far from isolated or resolved. It is the experiences of this trip that led me toward working with more non-profits to affect more change in the world.
Two years after that trip I began work with the same NGO as my cousin Kevin. I saw the inside of a global non-profit and how hard it is to keep money coming in as well as increasing the impact on the ground and in the field. I saw the bureaucracy and red tape involved in non-governmental organizations working with government organizations. And I saw more of the people around the world that lack basic needs, are victimized or threatened by power-mongers and fear-mongers. And I needed a way to help more. More than giving another $100 to another non-profit each year. More than running (or in my case walking) another 5k or 10k for a big charity that uses most of that money to run the event. I don’t like doing that any more. I can’t go volunteer as much. I can’t show up at events or fundraisers as often. I really wanted to be able to do something that means more to me. Yes, that’s my ego talking. I want to do good doing something I like to do. Is that so bad? I don’t think so.
The thoughts were brewing and I started seeing some of the new crowdfunding start-ups like Kickstarter and Go Fund Me and others. Kickstarter was super cool, with great creative projects with people doing things no one has ever seen. But you can’t raise money for nonprofits on Kickstarter. And Go Fund Me and the like are great for individuals or people who need to fundraise for personal causes. You can fundraise for nonprofits too, but it’s all mixed together and the biggest problem is there is not a lot of content past the first page or description of the problem. For nonprofit fundraisers, that usually means a repeat of the nonprofits info and call to action.
During the same time, I was doing some work on our house and I wanted a specific table for our dining area. It’s small and we need a thin and long table to fit. Plus, I wanted a rustic, reclaimed wood look. And we could not find anything that we liked that was less than $1000. So I decided to make a table. And as I was thinking about how to make a table, I happened to get a direct mail piece from the Los Angeles Food Bank. We had donated and they would send us regular donation requests. And then I put the ideas together. Just like when we do charity 5k walks and get supporters to donate so we raise more for the cause, why couldn’t I build a table for a charity instead? So I did.
Our fist funddeed project was my table project to benefit the Los Angeles Food Bank. It was before the website, so I just did it via email and asked friends and family to donate and we raised about $400 for the LA Food Bank. But I believed there could be something big in that idea. Let people who are creative create something or achieve something as their volunteer fundraiser. It’s a more personal way to volunteer.
Creators do whatever it is they want. They share the process and story as they go, which makes for incredible content. They choose the nonprofit they want to help and all the donations they generate go to that nonprofit. As they create, they share how the nonprofit fits in with the piece or their passions. They talk about why they want to help how it effects the piece they are creating. The creators promote what they are doing, plus the nonprofits usually help promote it because it’s helping them and they would love to have more and more people fundraising in this way. And of course funddeed helps promote, so creators get additional exposure and potential buyers for their art. And they keep the creations they make, so they can still sell their art like they normally would. But in the process of creating, they can help a great cause that needs it.
We love hearing about and helping great causes. Funddeed was created by Kent Land, his wife Merlan and their daughter Lorelai. We are a social enterprise that is dedicated to helping bring more awareness and funding to nonprofits by partnering with artists and creators to harness the power of art and storytelling to help create change.
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