I am beyond excited to share a big professional update with you! But first, a story …
As Peace Corps volunteers, we lived in a small village called Kihumbui-ni. Deep in the Rift Valley, Kimhumbui-ni was several hilly kilometers from the nearest paved road. In the dry season, we could reach this road by hopping on a matatu — a beat up, 14-person van — at just about any time of day. But during monsoon season, the frequency of matatus going into Thika, our nearest city, decreased because the road was difficult to traverse.
One day during the wet season, the rain stopped briefly. We decided to make the trip to Thika to pick up our mail and a new tank of propane. Even though it wasn’t raining, the ground was a thick, muddy mess. It sucked our shoes as we walked from our compound to the matatu sitting in the middle of the village. The vehicle finally filled enough for the driver to leave — the two of us, the driver and tout, and about half a dozen men in their 20s and 30s.
The matatu slipped and fishtailed as it made its way down hills. The driver accelerated, maneuvering the vehicle onto the most solid patches of road as we climbed the muddy embankments. At the bottom of one of the valleys, the van lost traction, and we couldn’t move forward. “What now?” I asked my husband. We were about halfway between Thika and Kimhumbui-ni, and walking either direction would require several kilometers of trekking through the mud.
The tout opened the door, and the men piled out. We started to climb out too, but the tout insisted we stay. With a lighter load, the driver backed the vehicle up. One of the men pulled a massive palm frond from a tree and, holding the long stem, placed it on the ground by the front tire. Another man did the same, and the driver eased forward over the muddy area where he’d gotten stuck.
The other men quickly followed suit, each snapping a large palm frond from a tree. They laid the massive leaves down end to end. The driver cautiously drove over them. As he did, the men leap-frogged from the end of the line after the tires passed over their leaves to the front, essentially creating a makeshift road as the matatu drove through the muddy valley.
A few minutes later, we reached a drier patch of land. The men tossed their fronds back into the lush forest that flanked the side of the road and hopped into the van. We continued on our way to Thika.
Throughout our time in Kenya, we heard time and again from locals that they didn’t have the talent or time or resources to solve their problems. This was reinforced with rice delivered from an NGO during a drought, money for a borehole from a charity, and yes, the presence of Peace Corps volunteers.
Yet, these men knew their environment. They knew how to use tools at their disposal. And they created workable and efficient solutions using their own innovation and ingenuity out of necessity.
The men on our matatu are not an isolated case. Every day, in communities throughout the world, locals mastermind creative solutions to problems. But, amid the noise of the disruptive, 24-hour news cycle, we don’t hear these stories. We don’t have a way to learn about these community-based initiatives and ideas.
I want to change that with Rooted, a storytelling platform at the intersection of sustainable travel, environmental conservation, and community-based advocacy efforts.
As an international volunteer and election observer, passionate world traveler, and permanent resident in a developing nation, I have witnessed countless examples of solutions created by the people who are immediately and personally affected by very real problems.
And, as a seasoned journalist, I want to share their stories.
I’ve been grappling with the best way to combine my passions and expertise so it adds value to the world. How can I help amplify the incredible community-based projects I’ve learned about? What can I do to encourage others to celebrate small efforts that have big, powerful, and positive consequences? How can I distribute original commentary in a way that adds to the conversation instead of detracts from it? How can I share related tips and insights from my professional work in this area? Where can I share others’ innovative stories and solutions — using my privilege and resources to pass the mic?
The answer to all of these questions is Rooted.
Right now, Rooted is starting to grow with a biweekly newsletter. Inside you’ll find:
- Access to original editorials and articles.
- Links to awesome solutions stories living at the intersection of sustainable travel, environmental conversation, and community-based advocacy efforts.
- Updates on my recently published articles, speaking engagements, and work in this area.
- And the occasional fun / surprising / envy-inducing update, photo, or tidbit from my kaleidoscopic life.
I hope you’ll join me on a journey of empowerment and amplification with Rooted, where local people plant the seeds and storytelling helps them grow.