To many people living in Lakeland, Kenya may seem fairly far removed from the culture of our city. However, a store downtown is quickly changing that assumption. Take Heart, a fair trade shop located on Kentucky Avenue, is working to change the lives of women in Kenya. There, women face oppression on all levels; and with very few rights, success and autonomy are out of reach for the women and girls who find themselves widowed or orphaned. Human trafficking further extends the problem, as approximately 70% of the girls who age out of orphanages become trafficked.
“The best way to get rid of something is to prevent it,” says the owner of Take Heart, Delta Ryan, discussing the topic of stopping human trafficking in Kenya. The veteran emergency room physician assistant of 20 years saw the conditions in which under-privileged Kenyan women live when she visited the country in 2012 on a medical trip. While there, she stayed in an orphanage for teen girls, all close in age to her own daughters at home, and formed bonds with them. After returning to the United States, she continued to check on the girls and heard that some were beginning to age out, prompting her to research ways to help. Take Heart officially became a nonprofit in 2014 after Delta resigned from her emergency room career to take on the organization full time. With her energy invested in the cause, she formed a three-fold mission: to prevent human trafficking, promote and expand fair trade, and provide widows with the training to help them access necessities.
Ryan found that microfinance loans of $50 were the best way to help widows. She started with one widow growing tomatoes, allowing her to select the business she wanted to start. The organization now has 25 women on interest-free loans, each running a business of their choice and providing for their children. The women are also able to pay for their children’s educations, something that many Kenyan girls miss out on due to lack of funds and their menstrual cycles, among other factors.
Elizabeth was one of those girls. She had her first child at 12 years old and, as a result, was no longer able to attend school. In 2014, Take Heart helped her by getting her back to school, and at age 16 she began learning a trade. This month she will be graduating with a degree in hairstyling.
Take Heart is now helping 30 students – girls and boys – get educations so that they are able to provide for themselves. Ryan stated that the decision to include boys in Take Heart’s mission came when she realized that helping boys who are prone to crime could influence them to view women as valuable individuals and treat them as such.
Fair trade is another facet of Take Heart’s mission, as it ensures fair wages and good working environments. In a country where many working women are not paid what they are promised, this system provides much needed stability and assurance. Ryan first started bringing items back from her trips and selling them at the farmer’s market in 2014. This has continued since then, as she tries to make multiple trips annually, the next one being scheduled for January.
After four years of setting up shop at the farmers market each and every Saturday, Delta opened the storefront at 248 North Kentucky Avenue in April of this year. There, customers can find many Kenyan items including jewelry, purses, dolls, scarves, and more. The store has also started carrying fair trade items from other countries, such as decorative word art made out of repurposed oil drums from Haiti. Customers also will find pottery, soap, and jewelry made by local artisans, serving as a way to give back to the Lakeland community.
As for future plans, Ryan claims that she wants to start a school and a clinic in Kenya in order to further help those in need.
If you would like to help, Take Heart is always looking for college students to intern or
248 N Kentucky Ave.