To Serve In Kenya – Dio Magazine, New Zealand
Carey Westwood (Student of 1979 at Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland, New Zealand) has travelled to more than 50 countries. She credits her parents for the gypsy residing within her, and for her love of visiting new places, meeting new people, and experiencing different cultures. When she was 11, her family left Auckland and travelled throughout the world, living out of a caravan for nearly two years. After many years living and working in Australia, Carey moved to Nairobi, Kenya, in 2012. In 2014, Carey and her Kenyan friend Wanjiru Waithaka founded Manasprings, a local not-for- profit organisation supporting women leaders working at the grassroots of Kenyan society. Its mission statement is to provide a place for these leaders to connect, inspire and learn. In just two years, Manasprings has already connected with more than 200 women leaders representing 150 community- based organisations through leaders’ events (seminars, retreats and chapters) and community service.
Carey loved her years at Dio, particularly playing hockey for Dio and Auckland. After school she deferred her place at the Royal Institute of Melbourne (RMIT) and worked in an ad agency in Ponsonby as a trainee graphic designer for a year. Those were the days of letraset, film, and storyboarding by hand. She wanted to be a professional photographer, and attending RMIT with her Nikon FM film camera was a dream come true. However, in her second year, she moved to Sydney to do a BA (Communications) in Film and TV Production, motivated by working within a collaborative team to create, rather than as a solo photographer. After completing her degree she worked as an assistant director in television, before moving to the Gold Coast where her family now lived. Carey worked for 24 years in marketing and communication, eventually leading a creative team of graphic and web designers, and multi-media personnel.
In 1994 Carey volunteered on a 10-day photography resources field trip with World Vision Australia to Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Africa captured her heart. She formed two significant relationships; one in Kenya with the Bethlehem Community Centre (BCC), the other with a five-year-old Ugandan girl and her grandmother living in the slums of Kampala. Returning home, more aware of how much she had, and more grateful for what she had taken for granted, she felt that she wanted to do something to help children living in poverty.
“I fundraised for BCC, which saw a two- storey children’s home and classrooms built, the purchase of 30 hectares of land, drilling of a bore hole, children attending school, and food purchased every month. I visited every two to three years, volunteering at BCC in Nairobi and visiting Justine and Jaja. I ensured there was money for them to pay for rent, food, education, clothing and medical needs.”
In 2008, after a trip to Kenya and Uganda, Carey resigned from her first job (after 24 years!) and took the rest of the year off . “My life had become pleasantly comfortable and predictable. I was not learning nor risking. At 46 years old, I felt there was something more, and the desire to help children, women and families living in poverty was stronger than ever,” she says. After travelling for the remainder of the year she started a job in international and community development in early 2009 that would see her on the African continent for three to four months of each year. In 2012 she moved to Nairobi, having worked with local community organisations in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Time and time again, we had seen women, the founders of small community organisations – schools, children’s homes, health clinics – working tirelessly to help others, but receiving very little encouragement. Funds were given to support the direct beneficiaries, but not the carers. These women carry the burden for many, with no rest or financial reward. We believed if we could gather like- minded women together in a safe space, they could connect, share, encourage, inspire, learn and be refreshed. These women have leadership skills that are not learnt from a text book, but forged from overcoming challenges and a deep understanding that relationships are highly valued above all else. They are not known by the large international aid agencies, but are well respected by the local people for their service to the poor. They walk with humility, and have the influence to achieve much with and for their communties.”
The Manasprings vision is: Healthy, vibrant communities led by ethical leaders, who are well able to influence sustainable solutions for positive change. It recognises that development is hindered by a lack of ethical leadership and looks to influence leadership at the grassroots, believing that ethical leadership will transform communities.
Currently, Manasprings is not funded by international aid organisations or government agencies but has received funding from the Australian Government’s Direct Aid Program (DAP). Carey’s Australian friends also donate. Manasprings hopes one day to have supporters in New Zealand and Australia who will partner with the organisation. Carey would love to set up adventure and educational tours to visit the places and meet the women she has come to know so well.
When asked to describe Kenya and her life there, Carey says: “Diverse. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty; mansions on acreage and iron shacks in densely populated slums; millions of people living on a few dollars a day; orphans and vulnerable children cared for in children’s homes; the hardworking poor endeavouring to make enough to pay for rent, food and school fees. The people I know give so much. There are spectacular national parks – Masai Mara, Amboseli, Samburu and more.”
“Pioneering a not-for-profit organisation is full on, so ‘me’ time is taken when I can and when I know I need it! This year I’m studying for a Masters in Transformational Development (MTD). Any other ‘me’ time is spent with friends made through Manasprings – visiting their children’s homes and community schools. Kenya has the best coffee in the world, so I can often be found in one of the local cafés enjoying a cup of coffee or two!”
As Carey says, not working in a paid job is a ‘new season’ for her. Looking back, she feels the influence of an early mentor’s advice to ‘follow your heart, not your head, in making life decisions’. She reflects on her ‘best friend’ relationship with her grandmother, an encourager, a beautiful strong woman who overcame, and her inspiring example of a life well lived; and the inspiration and challenge of the African women who do so much when seeing a need and in bringing hope.
As for her future, Carey says she would love to eventually spend her year in Kenya, and also Down Under, sharing about Manasprings and the courageous and kind women who are contributing to transformational change in people’s lives. “To build anything worthwhile that can sustain itself takes more than one or two people. Manasprings is made for others. It doesn’t belong to Wanjiru or me; it belongs to the women who give so much of themselves to helping children, women and families who are disadvantaged and vulnerable. These women inspire me. So, long term, I do hope that support will come to ensure Manasprings thrives whether I am in Kenya or elsewhere.”