"each good does good for children in Congo"
kicheko (pronounced kee-check-oh)
Meaning "smile/laughter" in Swahili, Kicheko is a cause-based brand producing and sourcing beautiful and fun handmade goods that also do good by investing in education for marginalized children in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
How It Works
30% of proceeds from each purchase invests in education for marginalized children in the DR Congo
My name is Sarah Bayot and I have the privilege of growing and sharing Kicheko as a for-profit business with a heart for social good. This social enterprise is based out of Washington, D.C., which is also home to my alma mater, The George Washington University, where I received a M.A. in International Affairs & Development; danced on a hip hop dance team called Capital Funk; and met my husband, James. There is a special place in my heart for social entrepreneurship, fashion, pandas, travel and guacamole. Before Kicheko, I developed 7 years of experience in an eclectic mix of management, monitoring and evaluation, nonprofit startups, missions, writing, event & retreat planning, voiceover work, and prop styling. I also blog about fashion, style and real life at Fashion and Philosophers. Now, onto the story.
Born out of a love to create mixed with a heart for international development, I began making earrings with a group of women from the DC area. Beginning with a pop-up shop at a university vendor fair in 2012, the earrings took off and Kicheko was born. Giving it a couple years to test the waters and steadily build up to this point, it is now a full-time endeavor since 2014. I chose "Kicheko," meaning "smile/laughter" in Swahili because through the goods and conversations that inevitably ensue, I desire to add the narrative of joy and resilience to the Congolese narrative being told.
What We Heard About Congo
If you've heard anything about the Congo in the news, it has probably centered around the longstanding conflict, conflict minerals, corruption, deteriorating infrastructure, or all of the above. Local and international rebels find safe havens in the jungles and mountains of the East and continue to cause instability on the local populations. Natural resources and competition for control of minerals in the East also fuel the conflict. The conflict in the Congo is the deadliest since World War II, with more than 5 million dead as a result. Congo is the worst place in the world for mothers, because of a high child mortality rate and lack of access to maternal health. It's the worst place in the world to be a woman - mass rape is used as a tactic of war and continues to scar thousands of women tearing the fabric of families and communities. These headlines are just a few from the past few years and highlight some of the challenges faced by the Congolese as many long for peace and stability after more than 15 years of conflict and decades of poverty, instability and neglect.
What We Experienced
These narratives and facts are overwhelming and can be paralyzing but they are not the whole story. For three years now, I have traveled with a group of companions and peers to the eastern region of the Congo to see for ourselves this place that we have read so much about. Some of us have had the privilege of seeing and experiencing more of the story firsthand as we have traveled to the Congo each year and continue to keep in touch with our friends there throughout the seasons. We've seen the ascending tall hills that surround Uvira, walked on the volcanic rock in Goma, heard about the rain forests to the north and marveled at the vast lakes in the region. The landscapes are breathtaking and it is easy to see how the land is endowed with so much and all the potential that exists for agricultural development and for a thriving land. The beauty also extends to the people we have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know throughout the years. From the heartfelt greetings, genuine smiles and hospitality that is extended to us, we have so much to learn from them and the resilience and joy they genuinely carry with them. We know a local pastor with a father's heart who began a center for children who were orphaned by the conflict in order to provide them a safe space to grow up, go to school, and hope for a better future. We know a social worker who makes the journey from Burundi on a weekly basis to help care for these children. We know the gorgeous smiles and joy that the cooks and the mamas in the local community choose to share despite difficult circumstances. We have witnessed the close knit and communal spirit of these communities despite forces trying to tear them apart. It is a country of paradox and a distressed history but it is also very much a country of hope and beauty. If they have hope and are determined to learn and work towards a better future, how can we not come alongside and also hope with them?
In my travels, it has been uplifting to see their joy and an honor that they share it with us so generously. Even in the midst of poverty, sickness, and the looming threat of instability that continues - they hold fast to community and to hope. Smiles and laughter can be healing medicine and it can perpetuate catharsis and joy. There is a sweetness in the laugh of a child and Kicheko is committed to protecting and preserving these precious years of childhood. Every sale of Kicheko goes towards supporting capacity building initiatives and education efforts in eastern Congo.
How We're Investing
Kicheko donates 30% of proceeds from sales towards programs and organizations that provide education for marginalized children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The funds are distributed on a quarterly basis and a report is given on how the funds are used. Currently, Kicheko is working with Mango Tree School, a primary school based in Uvira that educates over 200 primary-level students in the area who normally cannot afford the school fees and other costs associated with attending school. In 2013, the proceeds from Kicheko were used to provide school fees and supplies for children who have been orphaned by the conflict. In Q1 of 2014, the proceeds are being used to help construct an adequate brick 6-classroom school for the Mango Tree School. This facility will provide better environments and a concentrated learning space for each classroom.
Kicheko looks forward to growing our partnerships and supporting organizations who are doing good work. Don your Kicheko. Share the story. Choose love and hope. Beat the odds. Together, we can make a difference.