About a year ago I was perusing my Facebook feed and encountered a Kickstarter campaign shared by a friend on her page. This being the era of “Kickstart-my-life” I was hesitant to click on the link, but I did anyway. The story I read was of a young woman who was raising funds for a program called Arts and Abolition, a program whose mission is to offer a means of rehabilitation and healing to victims of the sex trade in Kenya. This was something that resonated with me for many reasons. I have had, for a while, a burning desire to find a way to reach out to our brothers and sisters on the continent of Africa and I was thoroughly encouraged to see a young woman, a young African-American woman, who had made it her life’s work to do just that. I donated a bit of money to the Kickstarter and reached out to the founder of the organization to offer my support. A year later, I was finally able to meet up with her face to face and talk about the program and what I might be able to contribute. Here are some questions I was able to ask after our face to face meeting. It’s my goal to support this work in whatever way I can. I hope the work will inspire you as much as it did me. Check it out!!
Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you go to school and what did you study?
My name is Brittanie. I was raised in Atlanta, GA. I went to University in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts where I majored in theatre arts. The arts are my first love.
Tell me a little bit about your first experience overseas?
My first overseas experience was with the Young Ambassadors for Nonviolence. I won an essay contest which took me to South Africa to explore the ways in which the Kingian philosophy of nonviolence helped end apartheid. From the first time I traveled to South Africa, I had a feeling that Africa and work abroad would be a large part of my life.
How did you go about pursuing living and working abroad? Or was it something that just, kind of, happened to you?
I think the answer is both: I pursued it, and it happened to me. As I was pursuing work abroad God lined things up to make the impossible possible. I was broke and barely knew what I was doing. But there was a grace on me that opened the doors to many opportunities for me. There still is.
How did you find yourself in Kenya working with victims of the sex trade?
I went to a school for missionaries in Mozambique where I learned about the child sex trade in Kenya. The stories I heard gripped my heart and I knew I had to do something about it. So I moved to Kenya a few months later and helped start a rescue and rehabilitation home for former child sex slaves on the coast.
Tell me about your experience as an African-American woman living and working in the community in Kenya. Have you found it difficult to build trust in the community as an American? Have you been treated as an outsider or welcomed with open arms?
It’s been interesting being Black and working in Kenya. Most westerners that come to do work here, of course, are White. The advantage is that I easily blend in and no one assumes I am an outsider until I open my mouth. So, if I keep my mouth closed, I have access to places and information most westerners don’t. I also don’t get mobbed like Whites do when walking through the slums. However, when people do find out I am American it can sometimes be ostracizing as I then begin being looked at as an ATM machine. But in the community we work in I have been embraced like family so I don’t have to deal with that much anymore.
So…Art and Abolition. What is the mission and how long has it been in existence?
Art and Abolition is a solidarity movement made of people who resonate with the notion that ‘until we are all free, none of us are free’; that my liberation is bound up with yours and yours with mine. So in order for freedom to become a reality for any of us, it is our responsibility to lend a hand to those still enslaved so that they can grab onto it and pull themselves out. We work in Kenya and our mission is to restore justice to young girls enslaved by the sex trade there. We do so by offering healing through art, education, and empowerment programs for young survivors and their caregivers. Our organization is just over one year old.
How do you identify and recruit girls for the school/program?
Art and Abolition specifically targets girls aged 15 and under who, because of poverty and/or pressure and threats of violence from their caregivers, are being forced to sell their bodies for everyday necessities like food, water, and school fees. Our recruitment team goes out and identifies girls, or sometimes cases are referred to us through rape crisis centers or government officials. We usually do about a three-month investigation period before accepting a girl into our program.
Do you/the program have support from the local government/community?
Yes, we do not stand alone in this work. We do everything out of a place of oneness with the community around us. The community, the local people, are the leaders of this movement. We are the ones in the background cheering them on.
How many individuals do you have running the camps/school and serving the overall vision of the program?
That’s a really hard question to answer because Art and Abolition is such a community of so many people who come and go. We have board members, staff in Kenya, volunteers in the US and Kenya, art teachers, workshop facilitators, partner organizations, advisors and the list goes on and on. We are a very small organization made up of lots of loving people who care about the work and make it happen.
How many girls does the program serve? Are you hoping to expand the program into other parts of Africa and abroad or do you want to continue to serve only the Kenyan community?
This year we began with 15 girls and 8 mamas. We are planning to expand in the coming months by recruiting 10 more girls and their mothers. For now we will continue serving communities in Kenya. But in the future we do hope to expand to other countries in East Africa.
What is the ultimate goal of Art and Abolition?
The ultimate goal of Art and Abolition is to restore justice to young girls enslaved by the sex trade in East Africa by liberating them and helping them heal.