That’s always a good question.
My name is Sarah Weston and I set up Ailsa’s Suitcase as a project.
Thanks to my Mum paying my air fare, I first went to Kenya about ten years ago. Since then, I have returned several times and always enjoyed a perfect safari in rather luxurious lodges. No matter how isolated one is in Kenya, you can’t help noticing that there are people struggling to find work and to afford the basics – food, medicine, education, and clothing – among the local communities. I sponsor a young woman called Sarah, so that she can go to school, and more recently I have been helping two young men to further their education – a conservationist and a teacher – and a third to be able to look after his severely disabled mother. I wanted to find a way to help even more people and wanted to focus on those remote communities that border on the lodges. These communities do benefit from their close proximity to the lodges in terms of some employment (Loisaba for example employs more than 200 people) and some charitable input (for example Loisaba Community Conservation Foundation) but there is so much more that they need. Such communities are at risk from drought, flooding, and even tribal unrest as was seen in 2017.
I set up Ailsa’s Suitcase in January 2020 in order to try to send as many things to rural Kenyan communities I could without having to send everything via freight. It had cost me £800 to ship four large boxes of donated sports kit to Loisaba in 2019 and, although I was extremely grateful for the donation and pleased to be able to send it on, I was conscious that there might have been very little difference between the cost of the kits and the cost of sending them there. Nevertheless, the kits were sent with love, and received with more gratitude than I could have ever imagined, and have proved to be of benefit in far more ways that I could have foreseen – including encouraging young men to talk about difficult issues.
The three kits were distributed to three teams:
“We have been idle at the village because we do not have equipment to play with, some of us have been good in sports during our time in school but since after the school our playing morale has gone down due to lack of practice.” John Lengirikai – Team Captain
“We recently participated in a tournament held at Kimanjo and we were at second position and we were playing without uniform, we are proceeding to Endana for the finals and thanks to Loisaba conservancy for provision of the uniform as this will motivate the team for better performance” Chabachina Kaparo- Team Captain.
I was pleased to discover that there is no restriction on people taking an extra suitcase of clothing and supplies to Kenya proving the airline’s total baggage allowance per person is not exceeded and proper paperwork is provided to show that the suitcase and its contents are destined for an official charity. I envisaged that this modest project send six suitcases to Kenya every year. However, that’s when the Land and Life Foundation stepped in to offer its help – their affiliated tour company, Elewana, would pick up the suitcase from the international airport and send them on to the communities surrounding their lodges making sure that they reached many more people. Then, I was offered an avalanche of clothing and several suitcases by friends and acquaintances living locally to me – and some people even posted things to me. I was off to a grand start…
More people offered to contribute and join in – Rob McLeod offered me every single stitch of his wife, Ailsa’s, well-cared for clothing when she passed, and allowed me to use her beautiful name for the project. While I was sorting through her things, Ailsa seemed to talk to me: “What do you think of these Ailsa?” I asked the photograph on the wall. “Good church shoes,” I heard her say. Ailsa herself was very fond of Kenya and her clothes went to a charity close to the Ugandan border with my Swahili teacher who was returning to Kenya to work there.
Never have I been more aware of the privileges I have in my life – health care, education, clothing, and food. Education is the key to escaping the worst poverty in Kenya and it can still go hand in hand with a life rich in good traditions. Clothing – and in the case of young women, reusable sanitary protection – is vital to keep young people in education, in sport, and in work. Educational supplies help to keep the schools going.
Thanks to all the people who have helped so far, with donations, ideas, and this lovely website, Ailsa’s Suitcase can do so much more.
Will you help?