Monday April 8, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Local art teacher Linda Whelihan is traveling to a Kenyan village this summer to promote a project that aims to combat a serious environment issue in that area..

Plastic bags are killing cows in Kenya, which is dangerous because cows are relied upon for more than just food.

"As an artist, as well as a teacher, I’m very interested in making beautiful things out of nothing," she said. "I’m also interested in forming communities around creative projects."

Whelihan will be leaving for Kenya on June 23. She will stay until July 21.

For the trip, Whelihan has started a fundraising campaign on indiegogo.com to raise money for a project that will teach women how to make other products, such as clothing, rugs and other various things, by weaving plastic bags. The money raised will go for travel expenses as well as materials.

Her main goal is to draw attention to the problem of plastic bag pollution.

Whelihan aims to create awareness for cleaning up the environment and empower women by teaching them the skill of weaving, so that they can "weave and knit the plastic bags littering the environment into beautiful, marketable items" the campaign’s site said.

As of April 5, the campaign had raised $1,920. The goal is to make it up to $3,800.

If the goal isn’t met, indiegogo.com takes 9 percent of the raised funds, as compared to the 4 percent if the campaign meets the goal. It ends on April 30.

Another reason for the trip is to visit an old friend, William Sirkobei ole Osono, whom she met during her last trip to Kenya nine years ago. He was her safari guide and later travel here to visit Brattleboro. He ending up returning every two years to visit local schools.

Last spring, William, who is a leader of a Maasai tribe in Kenya, visited Dover School and Marlboro Elementary School. He discussed his culture as well as the wildlife of the Maasai Mara.

"He always gets a good reception," said Whelihan.

When William comes, he brings a big club, a spear and a penga, which is a giant knife. The last time he visited, he brought herbs from a bush and elephant dung for the students to pass around.

Whelihan said members of the Maasai tribe that William is a part of are the "ultimate recyclers." They use cow skin to make mattresses, drink cow blood and milk then eat the meat.

"They’re living with a very small footprint," she said. "But plastic bags are destroying their environment."

William’s cousin James Simiren ole Nampushi, a Kenyan warrior from the same region, has arranged for Whelihan and other people going on the trip to meet with a local governor to get support for the plastic bag recycling project.

James is getting his doctorate at Clemson University and part of the requirements in one of his classes is to write a grant proposal. He proposed this project based around cutting down on plastic bag pollution.

"For such a small community, we’re really doing some creative things," Whelihan said. "It’s amazing how everything is woven together."

Whelihan showed the Reformer a laptop cover she created using plastic bags from Hannaford, Price Chopper and the New York Times baggy, in which the newspaper is delivered. In the middle of the laptop cover is a photograph of a lion from the Maasai Mara, which is sewed on and printed on cloth.

She will bring knitting needles and crosier hooks to Kenya. If people are interested in donating any of these materials, e-mail Whelihan at Lwhelihan@comcast.net.

To donate to the fundraising campaign, go to indiegogo.com/projects/maasai-weaving-project.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.