Our Story

The funddeed story begins in Kenya, at the edge of the Rift Valley, where one world seems to end and another world begins. As vacations go, this one would be unlike any other. Two days earlier, a Presidential election was held 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 arrive in Nairobi.

We are greeted by my cousin, Kevin, who’s family is living in Nairobi while he works with a global NGO there, managing regional communications. This evening we share a great meal along with deep conversation as we prepare for our 3-day trip and safari to the Rift Valley and Masai Mara the next day. Kevin is occupied with conference calls with the NGO security team, who are concerned with possible violence that is expected once the results of the election are made public. Because the danger is focused between the local ethnic tribes, we decide to proceed with our plans and drive toward the Rift Valley in the morning.

We are up early and head 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 to merely beautiful desolation.

Along the descent, the phone rings and the NGO security officer informs us that the election results have been announced and violence has already begun to erupt. We are advised to turn around and return to Nairobi. We don’t.

Instead, we arrive in Narok, a small town about mid-way to our Masai Mara tent camp, it is early afternoon. The first sign that things were not normal is a mass of people blocking the road. They are chanting and yelling, waving signs and flags, but it’s unclear if they are celebrating, or protesting. It doesn’t matter, we turn around and find another road into town.

We weave through town and drive through an outdoor market filled with people, arriving at a small hotel that is the only multiple story building around, it is four stories. We get rooms on the 4th floor, have a small (and interesting) meal at the hotel, walk a bit of the outdoor market and return as it is getting dark. No signs of unrest.

That evening we sit in our room and talk while my cousin speaks to the security and leadership teams of the NGO, in his room. They are not thrilled that we did not heed their advice to return to Nairobi. And during the call, I look out the window and notice a small fire in the corner of the outdoor market. It could be a cooking fire, but soon we realize it isn’t. There are now other fires in the market, and within a few minutes it’s clear that the market has been set ablaze.

As the fire grows, we hear yelling and screaming and soon we see some people fleeing the market while others are rushing into it to try to save their goods and livelihoods. It’s too late. The fire spreads fast and soon the entire marketplace is in flames and adjacent building are beginning to smolder. One fire vehicle, I wouldn’t call it a fire engine, rolls up the street but merely stops and observes, as there is little that one small tank of water can do.

It isn’t long before we notice a brigade of soldiers marching down the street toward the market. They are passing just below our windows when we heard gun fire.

Bam, bam bam!

We all dive to the floor. I run to the next room to get my cousin, who is sitting on the bed, still on his conference call.

“Did you hear that?”, I asked.

He holds his hand over the phone, “Be quiet! If they know we’re in danger, we won’t be able to leave here. Keep everyone quiet!”, he says slowly.

We are wide-eyed, but stay silent. The fire burns, the soldiers spread out around the market and gradually things calm down. Later, we learn 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. The 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 involved.

We decide the Masai Mara is 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 are driven to a small store on a mostly deserted street. It is closed – all the stores are closed.

We wait in the car as our connection goes to the large metal door. It opens slightly and he has a short conversation and then motions to us to quickly come. The door opens a little more and we are ushered quickly inside and the door is shut and locked behind us.

There are four or five other people in the store. We are told to go find what we need and come to the front. We do our shopping in record time. We have five or six bags of supplies and food. We pay and then go back to the door to get back to the car. We are told to go quickly and not to stop for anyone or anything.

The door opens and there is now a crowd outside. We move through the crowd and someone asks why we had been allowed inside the store, why they could not get in and another asks where we are going? We walk to the car, put in the bags, get in and manage to drive away through the now busy street. We return to the hotel and our worried family, pack up the 4-Runner and head west again, further away from the populated areas and the violence.

We are stunned, but also strangely stimulated. Maybe it’s adrenaline, but there is a tactile sharpness to the whole experience. We drive another few hours across the Masai Mara, seeing amazing views and wild animals just roaming through the bush, before we reach our tent camp, which would be our base for the next couple days as we go on safari. Masai warriors protect the camp and are present at all times and on watch 24-hours, mostly for lions. Young Masai men become warriors once they kill a lion, with a spear. That’s right, a spear. And not a spear that you throw 15 or 20 feet. No, the Masai spears have a large, wide, pointed blade on one end, but on the other end of the short wooden handle is a long metal spike. When Masai men face a lion, they must 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. Needless to say, becoming a Masai warrior requires courage.

Ndebi is our guide. A Masai Warrior who resembles Don Cheadle but a lot taller. He sits in the passenger seat of the 4-Runner and directs Kevin as we mostly bounce along dirt and rock (not gravel) roads and paths. Ndebi speaks a little english, but can communicate with his hands. He quite possibly saves our lives on a couple occasions over the next two days.

What we see is 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 just surviving. The majesty of 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 just happens as it’s meant to happen. And it will all return to itself.

The first two days of safari are wonderful. With some breathtaking encounters, some close calls and a flat tire. Luckily the flat happens as we pull into a remote lodge that has a repair shop. It is fixed within minutes. And then it is all over.

The phone rings and we are ordered, not asked, to return to Nairobi immediately. We are being evacuated to Tanzania.

We head back toward Narok. With no spare tire, we decide to stop in one of the smaller towns to see if we can get it fixed. We pull into a public square where it looks like some other cars are being repaired. A group of men quickly surround us, offering their assistance. We chose two men to do the job. They quickly get to work.

What we failed to do was ask what it will cost. And when the 10-minute job of plugging and inflating the tire is done, they say it’ll cost $100.  Uh-oh.

Kevin, who has travelled the world and worked in the middle of conflicts large and small, simply laughs. I swallow hard. I doubt we had $100 between us, and there was no ATM within 100 miles. Your move, Primo.

Kevin reaches into his pocket, grabs his wallet and quickly pulls out some U.S. bills. He hands the money to the man, who it is now clear is the leader of this outfit.

And Kevin says, “Here is $30. This is more than fair for the work you did for us. That’s all you are going to get.” And then he just stands there.

The man looks at the money. Then he glances at the other men. He looks back at Kevin. And then, after what seems like a lifetime, he throws his hands in the air and yells “Ok!”. Or something like that. He laughs. Kevin laughs. They all laugh. I breath. And we drive back to Nairobi with a fixed spare tire.

The next day we are escorted by the security team to a charter plane that flies us past Mount Kilimanjaro to Arusha, Tanzania. There we are put up in a nice hotel for the next 3 days of our journey before being flown back to Nariobi to catch a flight back home to California.

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, with the goal 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. 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 first 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. I believed there was something bigger 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.

The idea is that 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 project or their passions. They talk about why they want to help how it effects the project they are creating.

The creators promote what they are doing, and the nonprofits help promote it because it benefits them and draws new audiences. They love having 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 creators keep the creations they make, so they can still sell their art like they normally would. But in the process of creating, they can also 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. Funddeed is 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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