Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Knitting New Beginnings for Kenyan Widows and HIV Orphans

Thanks to these Bébé Ravi sweaters, kids are getting an education. (Photo: Lee Clower)

A deep-rooted story of grace and humanity is behind every tiny sweater in the Bébé Ravi children's collection.

Born in Kenya, designer Siamanda Chege always admired her father for his "great compassionate heart."

Her family had little in the way of luxuries, but unlike many in her community, they had food and shelter.

As a missionary, her dad, Reverend Chege, brought hope to widows and orphans throughout Africa. He wanted to one day build a loving home for children who had lost their parents.

In 2002, Siamanda's father passed away. By that time, the HIV/AIDS epidemic had been ravaging the continent for more than a decade.

Medication wasn't readily available for those with the virus, people were dying in droves, and kids were being passed from relative to relative after losing parents to the disease.

Siamanda saw all this in relation to her first child. "It hit me so strong," she tells TakePart. "What if it was my child who didn't have a mother and a father and was garbaging on the streets?"

She knew what she had to do. She established The Patrick Chege Memorial Orphanage in Nakuru, Kenya.

Siamanda walks with the children to school. (Photo: Lisa Rosen)

"I started with five, then 10, then 12 and 14 kids," she says. Today, 26 children are in the orphanage, and Siamanda hopes to build a home for 50. The most important thing for her, besides giving children a loving home and an education, is keeping siblings together.

Recently, the orphanage reunited John, who is 13 years old and has stunted growth, with his family. The family sent a video of John to Siamanda. "He was so happy. He said my brother and my sister are here," she says. "It was just something."

In Siamanda's journeys through Kenya, she met many widows and mothers who could not support their families.

"They all were beaten down by their husbands, by society," and many would prostitute themselves to feed their children, she says.

The women were almost all illiterate. Having growing up in Kenya, Siamanda realized that the women knew how to knit. As a designer, Siamanda thought, "In the village, I could start a children's line of knits and make it really high end by getting the finest yarns."

These women are now able to give their children food, shelter and an education. (Photo: Lisa Rosen)

With this idea, Siamanda launched Bébé Ravi. She employs 100 Kenyan women who make adorable hand-knit and crocheted children's clothes.

They feel "so empowered, so very empowered," Siamanda says. The knitters are able to support themselves and their families through their work. The profits from Bébé Ravi go to the children at The Patrick Chege Memorial Orphanage.

After seeing the lives of these women change, Siamanda says, "I couldn't believe I had been given the position by the universe to be that person who could make so much of a difference to a human being."

The kids have become a family, Siamanda says. (Photo: Lisa Rosen)

From our friends at, who cover the culture and lifestyle of change.