Ubuntu Life: Empowering Lives

A unifying idea, ubuntu means to be human is to recognize the humanity of others.

“Ubuntu” is a simple African word that has deep meaning in society. It is a philosophy that holds a universal truth and is a way of life. Ubuntu means appreciating one’s uniqueness and having respect for each other. Each person brings different skills and strengths that contribute to the success of a society as a whole. But ubuntu also encompasses sharing, being helpful, caring, trust, selflessness, and community. Such a philosophy leaves no room for mean-spiritedness or retaliation. Instead, hatred and anger are conquered through compassion and peace.

Nelson Mandela, an inspirational figure of freedom in the world, has been called the personification of ubuntu. He did not harbor retribution, bought sought peace, understanding, and harmony. Mandela once described ubuntu as “a traveler through a country would stop at a village, and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves; the question, therefore, is, are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve? These are the important things in life, and if one can do that, you have done something very important, which will be appreciated.”

South Africa The Good News, via Wikipedia, CC BY 2.0

Ubuntu at Work

Embracing this philosophy is Ubuntu Life, an organization that helps Kenyan mothers and their special needs children. Ubuntu Life is a global lifestyle brand based out of Kenya. Women and their children with learning and physical disabilities are often shunned by society and lead lives of hardship. The organization empowers these mothers and others to earn a sustainable living while their children receive the essential care they need.

It all began with two pastors who are friends from Kenya and Texas, Jeremiah Kuria and Zane Wilemon. They discussed faith, expansion, and empowerment over lunch one day and felt moved to create a center for disabled children where they could receive much-needed therapy and medical care.

Their children cared for; the mothers asked the pastors to help them do something productive with their free time. This simple request launched Ubuntu Life in 2011, and the nine mothers became known as Maker Mums. They worked on manually operated Singer sewing machines in a 15-by-15-foot room, producing shopping bags, coffee cup sleeves, bandanas, and coasters selling them locally.

It wasn’t long before the small workroom transformed into an 11-acre property outside of Maai Mahiu, an hour-and-a-half ride from Nairobi. It was a prime location along a tourist and trade route and could contribute to the local economy. The land was restored with native plantings and became a rest stop for weary travelers, eventually becoming the new home of the Maker Mum Sewing Studio.

 More of a Good Thing

The organization expanded to include Maasai Maker Mums in 2012. A group of Maasai women crafted exceptional beadwork during their spare time beneath the shady boughs of an acacia tree. The work provided income that supports the Maasai tradition and way of life.

In 2013, Café Ubuntu opened in partnership with Whole Foods Market. Foods featured on the menu are sourced and organically farmed on the 11-acre site. In the back of the property, a water bottling plant began operations in 2015. The clean water source is used at all the Ubuntu Life medical camps and contributes to quality care and a thriving community. The Maker Mums developed their sewing skills and created a new line of shoes called Afridrille in 2018 in partnership with Zazzle Heart.

Ubuntu Life Inc. was formed in 2019 as a public benefit corporation. Through its sustainable employment, women in the community have been empowered to create and sell products in Kenya and abroad. The Ubuntu Life Foundation was created as a charitable partner organization providing special needs children throughout Kenya access to pediatric health care and educational services. The foundation promotes social inclusion, offers vocational training, and works to eradicate stigma.

The organization has profoundly changed the lives of women and special needs children in the region. Juliah Mweru has worked at Ubuntu Life since 2012. She describes how the organization has changed her life, “I saw no point in life, but that is now a thing of the past since I am a financially capable lady, no more embarrassments from debts, my family lives a comfortable life, my children in school and rent is now not a struggle anymore! I am also in the process of owning a piece of land where I will construct my house!”

Ubuntu Life is a prime example of ubuntu in action. Learn more about Ubuntu Life and their beautiful products you can buy at ubuntu.life.

“I Am Because We Are”

Imagine if we could apply ubuntu in every society, where self-centeredness is replaced with selflessness, hatred with appreciation, and anger with kindness. Ubuntu reveals the importance of our connection to each other. It creates a mindset to uplift one another rather than tear down what makes us unique as individuals. Desmond Tutu defines ubuntu this way, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.”

Tutu speaks words for us to ponder and apply to our own lives, “We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”