Caring for Kenya
There are many talented students within the School of Leadership Studies who take the mission of the School to the next level. Kaitlin Long, a junior studying business administration with a focus in entrepreneurship and leadership studies, is one student who had an International Service Trip experience that changed her life and inspired her to take on a business endeavor that would help women half way across the world.
During the summer of 2011, Kaitlin Long served at the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre (CYEC) in Nyeri, Kenya as a member of an International Service Team. While she was there, she had an opportunity to meet women who made shoulder bags and other items, including head wraps, as a part of the tailoring program offered through the centre.
CYEC addresses the problem of street youth in Kenya and is a safe place for around 150 children and young adults to come and learn life skills, take art lessons and participate in other activities throughout the day. Long was inspired by the women she met and was determined to find some way to help them sustain their stitched creations. Little did she know she would have the opportunity to make that dream come true the following semester.
Last spring, Long was enrolled in a social entrepreneurship class where students were charged with entering the Next Big Thing competition. She asked her friend Logan Gauby, another student who was with her in Kenya, to join her on a business endeavor which was eventually named Rafiki Bags LLC.
The Next Big Thing competition is an event held annually by the Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business Administration. With a prize of $3,000 given as seed money to start their venture, Long and Gauby, along with the help of fellow entrepreneurs from Nyeri, were able to implement their business after winning first place in the competition.
The duo did not waste any time getting their business off the ground, and just months after the competition, Rafiki Bags made their way to K-State.
Two young women, who Long met at the CYEC during her summer in Kenya, worked on making 30 African-patterned shoulder bags and 40 head wrap scarves which were shipped to the U.S. and are currently sold in the K-State Student Union and in Varney’s in Aggieville. 70 percent of the profits from Rafiki Bags LLC are going straight toward the women’s funding for school, as they have hopes of becoming fashion designers, but are unable to afford the cost of education. The other 30 percent of the proceeds are going toward the upkeep of sewing machines, fabric and transportation.
Despite the success of the business endeavor, the international barrier proved to be difficult at times. However, Long and Gauby have a heart for service and seek new opportunities to give back daily.
“It has been a long and frustrating road at times, but learning patience when working internationally is crucial to the success of any project,” Long said. “Regardless of what happens with Rafiki, Logan and I have learned so much and the relationships we have been able to build with those at the CYEC are what motivate me the most!”
Rafiki Bags is not only giving Long and Gauby business experience while still in college, but they are also able to help provide funding and training for students at the CYEC, sustaining their efforts as a result.
In addition to Long's leadership with her business and as a Student Project Coordinator for International Service Teams, she also exercises leadership through other on-campus organizations she is involved with including: Student Alumni Board, Student Governing Association, Alpha Delta Pi sorority and, as of recent, Blue Key Honor Society. Her ability to mobilize others and make progress in not only the local K-State community, but in communities abroad as well, is truly an inspiration.
How YOU can help:
If you are interested in getting your very own Rafiki Bag:
Visit their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/RafikiBags
Stop by Varney’s or the K-State Student Union
*The bags also make wonderful gifts!