Teaching Kenyan Children How To Soar: A Look at Flying Kites

By: Melaina Gasbarrino

Flying Kites is a unique initiative that emphasizes the fact that Third World Kenyan children do matter. Many moons ago, the founders of Flying Kites volunteered at orphanages in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. With a set-up that 'wasn't effective' and was a shameful way to treat children, Leila de Bruyne, Toby Storie-Pugh and Justine Axelsson developed Flying Kites. As their initiative to change grew into an organization, they wanted to ensure that we all see children as children and not label them as orphans.

The organization seeks to showcase the potential that children of Kenya have. With headquarters in Brooklyn, and a children's home in Kinangop, Kenya the expansive agriculture-like land and room to run freely, the children of Flying Kites will 'one day change the world.' The home houses 150 children living in ten separate houses, students are educated and have the potential to flourish with a perfect view of The Aberdare Mountains in view.

Flying Kites focuses on not only providing these children with a home and education, but also instilling leadership, living, and cooking skills that can help them succeed in the future. We had the great opportunity to speak with Leila, Founder and Director of Marketing at Flying Kites to learn a little bit more about the organization.

Why the name Flying Kites?

The name 'Flying Kites' came up, as a name to showcase that the organization is all about giving kids back their childhood. It's all about showing what potential these kids have. With a name like this we are able to install a sense of wonder and adventure in each student's lives and create a place where kids can once again feel free, and loved.

After your first trip to Kenya, how did you make this dream of helping the children a reality?

It happened fast, just the way all things happen. The three of us graduated from college in May and by June we bought a piece of land in Kenya. We then got the support of the community and needed to build a Kenyan board of directors. And the rest is history.

Why are teaching leadership roles to kids so important to your organization?

Flying Kites is a campus of children. We want to evoke a sense of excellence in each child, just the way anyone would for their child living in a First World Country. By working with great leaders throughout Flying Kites, we want to show the kids here that they can truly be the best they can be. We teach the kids more than just life and leadership skills, we teach them how to be successful and achieve their dreams.

Do you teach them how to cook?

Of course! The boys, the girls...everyone pitches in when we have big family dinners. Oftentimes the kids will play 'restaurant' - dress up, make a menu, take each other's orders, practice their table manners. They love making chapattis (like Nan bread), although our Country Director asked the cook to make them for the children without oil, and well...that didn't go over too well!

What types of food do you cook for the kids?

We mainly cook and eat ingredients that are grown locally. The meals are somewhat basic (Kenya has less of the incredible spices found in Ethiopia, although the coast of Kenya is known for more culinary flare). We eat a lot of githeri (essentially beans and maize), fruits (mango, passion fruit). We recently launched a 'Farming + Feeding Program', set to provide over 170 nutritious meals A DAY. The ingredients will include beans, sweet potatoes, cabbages, carrots, kale, spinach, and avocado - sourced either from our very own crop fields, or those run by our neighbors and friends. We are trying to raise $30,000 to develop the program and operate it for 2 years.

A lot of people don't like to talk about the enormous physical and cognitive damage that malnutrition causes in children because it is permanent and can't be treated or reversed. We're taught that it's not right to say "depriving children of vital nutrients affects their IQ"... but it's the truth, and a reality for several stunted and developmentally challenged children in our outreach programs.

With all of the different programs (Adventure Challenges, Child Sponsorship, etc) and ways to give back to Flying Kites what would you say is the most successful program and why?

The Adventure Challenge is by far the most successful program. The Challenge 'offers you a way to be apart of our innovative fundraising initiative as you embark on a challenge of your lifetime'. Those who are a part of the Adventure Challenge get to escape to the mountaintop and climb Mount Kilimanjaro. You fundraise $4,000, spend 3 days with the kids at Flying Kites than climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. We also have a unique expedition to climb to Mount Everest Base Camp. We're hoping to raise $2 million dollars and you would be climbing with the first Kenyan ever to climb Mt. Everest, so it's pretty profound stuff. The idea of The Adventure Challenge is to show the kids that if you put your mind to something and you work hard at it, there's nothing you can't do.

How can people get involved with Flying Kites?

People can get involved with Flying Kites by donating, going on an Adventure Challenge, or sponsoring a child. Volunteers invest their time and money into working with us and so we only want change makers to be a part of our team.

This is such an empowering an initiative, are there more Flying Kite Academies to be opened in the future?

Yes, we definitely want to build more campuses. We first want to finish this home and academy, perfect the model and make sure it's financially stable, than we will look into opening up more homes.

To learn more about Flying Kites and to donate, visit their website here. 

Melaina is from a small town in Ontario, Canada and as an avid environmentalist with a passion for focusing on healthy living. Having traveled the world and written about it every step of the way, she one day hopes to develop unique environmental educational programs for kids. 

Photos: Alexander Nesbitt and Flying Kites 

For more news on Africa, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)