Lake Norman & Mooresville

Artisan market will help Kenyan children

Residents can get an early start on their holiday shopping this weekend while serving a good cause.

Now in its second year, the artisan marketplace will come to the Lake Norman area this week to help raise money for the Kilgoris Project, said Tia McNelly, 31, of the Gilead Ridge neighborhood in Huntersville.

During a 1999 safari in Kenya's Maasai Mara game reserve, McNelly's sister-in-law and her husband became friends with a local resident who told them about his desire to build a church and school in the community.

The friendship between the couple and the local man served as the inspiration for the Kilgoris Project.

Although the project started with a focus on building a school and church, it has expanded to bring a women's cooperative, clean water initiative and health clinics to the area as well.

McNelly said she was inspired to help when her sister-in-law described living conditions in Africa.

"It was a real cathartic moment for me, and it kind of jolted me," she said. "I was so wrapped up in my own life, and I never took the time to ask about it. Nothing has ever been the same since."

Soon after talking with her sister-in-law, McNelly visited the Kenyan village to learn more.

"As a registered nurse, what struck me most was the need for medical care for students there," she said.

Last year, McNelly hosted an inaugural artisan marketplace in Charlotte to raise money for the project. Vendors sold jewelry and collectibles from Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania as well as local artwork.

Every vendor pledged to donate at least a portion of their proceeds to the Kilgoris Project, with many donating 100 percent, said McNelly.

The group raised $5,000 last year, which helped fund several basic-care clinics, new hand-washing stations and other medical programs in the village, she said.

"We're addressing simple issues that can be solved easily that are cost-effective and have high impact on wellness," said McNelly. "We've seen a dramatic decrease in absenteeism in school just because of the prevention of simple illnesses like (colds) and worms."

Local artist Darlene Knab, who is participating in the marketplace for the first time, said McNelly's passion for helping Kenyans is contagious.

"Everyone who goes around her catches the fire," she said.

This year, the group hopes to raise about $15,000 to build a new well at one of the schools in Kenya.

"As we're finding more and more problems, everything seems to come back to clean water," said McNelly.

Jennifer Sidden, who is helping to organize the marketplace, said she's hopeful the group will be able to meet its goal this year.

"I think it's so important to help people throughout the world. We're commanded as Christians to serve the least of these," she said. "This is a great way to support the work of the Kilgoris Project and at the same time get some Christmas shopping done."