Zane Wilemon and Jeremiah Kuria are the unlikely duo behind the creation of Ubuntu. A “white guy” from Texas who bought a one-way ticket to Kenya post-undergrad and a Kenyan minister from a small town outside of Nairobi. Their friendship began over 15 years ago at a fly-ridden restaurant in the middle of town over a bowl of questionable stew.
Here I was, a loud and passionate young guy in Kenya, and Jeremiah, looking at me and thinking, ‘what in the world does this white guy want?'
At the start of their relationship, conversations centered around creating opportunities that empower the local community to help themselves. This seed eventually grew into the creation of several thriving programs in Maai Mahiu, under the name “Comfort the Children,” commonly known as CTC.
“We fumbled around trying to figure out how best to create those opportunities that empower people and many failed. Some weren’t truly empowering, some were too expensive, others started working but weren’t sustainable. The Malaika Kids was for sure an opportunity to empower these children, but it wasn’t going to last long term. We asked ourselves, ‘How do we do this in a way that’s something new, but we aren’t constantly asking people for money?’”
The answer was a fashion line, initially imagined to create jobs for mother’s of the Malaika Kids. Today, those same women have formed into a sisterhood revered in the community: women who provide for their families, purchase land, and venture into their own successful entrepreneurial efforts. Which is why it’s not simply about creating jobs.
“Plenty of people have been given opportunity, but they don’t feel empowered. There’s something magical about our culture and creating a job within that; it then empowers the whole community.”
After 13 years in Maai Mahiu, CTC has launched a new model for sustainability under the name Ubuntu.
“Ubuntu is a South African word that means ‘I am because we are,’ and it has been the core of our organization from beginning. It is all about interconnectedness and meaningful relationships, and it’s the perfect word to unite our model for impact.”
Ubuntu established a social businesses, Ubuntu Made, to feed into our social impact programs, Ubuntu HEAL and Ubuntu School (formerly Malaika Kids).
“So much about who we are engages the community and a program. If you want a packaged, clean experience where you watch without participation, there’s really no connection and we aren’t for you. But if you want authentic relationships that engage the community, if you’re humble, vulnerable, and can open your heart beyond a preconceived idea of Africa, then we are for you. That’s our message: you can be yourself here.”
Honest. Authentic. Vulnerable. These pillars of Zane and Jeremiah’s relationship formed the foundation that Ubuntu stands on now. Ubuntu birthed out of that original meeting between Zane and Jeremiah - a relationship that created a snowball of opportunities, a conscious awareness, bold imagination, and ultimately, freedom. This authentic freedom through relationship is the common thread, unifying our roots to our future.