18-03-2022 by Freddie del Curatolo
From access to education and medical care and psychosocial aid, to a vocational school and finally to a women's business to market leather and cotton bags and accessories, with the help of great fashion designers.
These are the "candles" of merit with which the Italo-Swiss association Children of Africa is celebrating twenty years of solidarity in Kenya, in the name of "Mama Lorenza" Bernasconi, a splendid woman who died too soon, shortly before the inauguration of the Vocational Centre, a professional school of tailoring and leather working, hairdressing and beauty for girls in difficulty that she created near Diani and that she was unable to inaugurate.
It is her daughter Carolina, who over time has taken the reins of the association and the various projects, which also extend to Kilifi County, who tells Malindikenya.net about the history and present of Children of Africa.
After a trip to Kenya, a country she immediately fell in love with," says Carolina, "my mother decided to make a concrete contribution to improving the lives of the people she met on the coast. In September 2002, the Children of Africa foundation was founded to provide support to children in rural areas in the counties of Kilifi and Kwale and their families. In 2005, it was recognized as an NGO by the Kenyan government. Unfortunately, in 2010, just as work was being completed on the vocational center for vulnerable girls, my mother lost her life in a car accident. The following year we inaugurated the school that takes her name, Mama Lorenza Vocational Centre".
Twenty years of presence in the area, growth and many girls who have graduated. The anniversary for Children of Africa also wants to be a starting point for new initiatives that aim to strengthen the role of girls in particular and their inclusion in the social and economic fabric of the country.
In these twenty years, our organization has grown, becoming more and more a part of the community in which it operates," explains Carolina Bernasconi. "We began by supporting children and their families in rural communities (to date, we support 92), and over time we have endeavored to respond to the concrete needs expressed by the area. The opening of Mama Lorenza's Vocational Centre was intended to provide girls with an opportunity for professional and social integration, and two years ago we opened Emèl, a women's social enterprise that produces and sells high-quality leather and textile products and is led by some of the students who have graduated. Emèl's ambition is to offer secure and challenging employment to girls who have graduated from vocational school. In order to make the company financially self-sufficient and to be able to welcome more and more girls into the team, since last year we have decided to expand sales in Europe, starting with Switzerland."
The latest initiative of the organization has found the support of international designers such as Andrea Renieri (Ferragamo), Luigi Mulas and Silvia Stefanucci (Academy of Costume and Fashion) who have designed the line of bags and accessories (following the realization) that can be purchased from April on the Emèl website and the success of the vocational school can be seen by the fact that at least 200 of the 214 graduates have immediately found work.
Carolina and the "Children of Africa" family certainly don't stop here.
"In our future," confirms the executive director of the NGO, "there is the goal of consolidating and expanding existing activities, seeking to create a bridge between Kenya and Europe to encourage the exchange of materials, ideas and experiences. And in September 2022, at the Mama Lorenza Vocational Centre, during the usual graduation ceremony for second-year students, we will organize an event to celebrate the twentieth anniversary, with the presence of some of the most loyal supporters and many dedicated initiatives".
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