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Stella Airoldi gave a talk at the Nomad Cruise Conference

From Digital Nomad to Social nomad how to make a difference!

Nomad cruise V. conference 25 Sept- 8 October!

22STARS founder Stella Romana Airoldi had the pleasure to give a talk on the first day for 260 people from 32 countries. She talked about her journey of starting 22STARS and also the huge impact that Nomad Cruise had on this: it is all about finding the right community

Some fun facts:

  • It was Stella's fifth NC conference; yes she went to all of them and will tell you why. 
  • There are more than 60 alumni on board of which 3 (Diego Araos, Daniel Hünebeck and Bastian Barami) already did the 22stars Social Workation in Uganda Antonio Carill and Theresa were also on the Nomad Cruise and joined us in Uganda, but are not on the boat this time. 
  • By now 45 kids are sponsored by nomad cruisers. 
  • We had 24 talks and 38 workshops the next days on the boat! 
  • And 22stars started accepting also bitcoins. :)

From Digital Nomad to Social Nomad to make a difference!

So, let me tell you how the foundation actually started and what Nomad Cruise had to do with it. I met Johannes – the founder of Nomad Cruise – about 2.5 years ago in Cape Town. This was the first time that I heard about the term “Digital Nomad”. I was running a social jewellery business called 22STARS with post war victims from Uganda and went to Cape Town to do a photo shoot of our summer collection. My background was International law and I just did a 3-month course on how to set up a business, so I was really a newbie in this whole world of entrepreneurs. I was a so-called location independent social entrepreneur and had no idea that there were so many like-minded people. Meeting Johannes and the other Digital Nomads was a real eye opener. Plans were made for the first Nomad Cruise, and in December 2015 it all started: the first Nomad Cruise.

When I told the story of 22STARS at the first Nomad Cruise I had no idea that a year later a foundation would come out of it!

On this first Nomad Cruise Johannes asked me whether I would like to give a talk about my social jewellery business 22STARS. So, there I was, talking about how we make jewellery from recycled paper and how and why I started this. As I worked for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also the European Union Delegation in China many of my friends back home were questioning what I was doing, and why I did not chose a secure job in the international field or became a lawyer to make a lot of money every month. And not just that, people thought I was completely crazy to work with post war victims who cannot read and write and of whom most part is HIV positive or has another bad disease. “Stella be real, this can never ever work” is what so many said.

When people ask me why I started 22STARS there is a simple answer: the story of Susan Laker who I met in 2009 touched my heart!

I had a vision and a goal and I knew nothing is impossible. This was not about making jewellery. This was not about having a webshop. This was about changing a life. This was about a woman. A woman I met in 2009 and her name is Susan Laker. I met Susan in 2009 through David Wafula while doing research in Uganda for my master thesis about girl child soldiers and victims of the LRA. I interviewed amongst others Susan who was living in aninternally displaced camp in Kampala: the Acholi Quarter. Susan and the other women were speaking their own language, Luo, while in Kampala people speak Luganda or English. Because of the war that went on for years theywere uneducated, widows, HIV positive and highly discriminated against by others so It was hard for them to find a job elsewhere then the stone quarry, where they would crash stones from 7 am to 7 pm.

In particular, the story of Susan touched my heart. I was 23 years old and Susan was just two years older than me. She had to seek refuge in military barracks when she was only 13 years old, where she got pregnant from her first son. living with her three teenage kids in a tiny mud room without windows, door, electricity and water. None of them went to school. They were working in the stone quarry. But as Susan was Hiv positive and also diagnosed with cancer and tuberculosis she was too weak to work over there and so she started rolling beads out of recycled paper from her home. Her kids would not go to school, but go to the streets to sell them to earn some money for food.

I wanted to help Susan and her kids, so every year I would ask David Wafula to send me some jewellery that I would give as gifts to my friends and family. In the meantime, I did an advanced master in Human Rights and Democratization in Spain and Italy and worked afterwards at the European Union Delegation in China. Within a few years however I saw the impact that I was having on Susan by just buying her jewellery. Susan went back to school and learned English and was able to communicate directly with mewithout a translator. Also, her kids started school and from their tiny mud room they moved within the Acholi Quarter slum into a solid one bedroom house with electricity, a window and a door that could be locked. All that with just a little bit of help.

To make an impact on more peoples life like Susans I started the social jewellery business 22STARS end of 2013

To spread this impact, I decided in 2013 to start the social enterprise 22STARS and make Susan project manager of a larger group of women who had similar stories and were also making jewellery. My idea was to just help them set up a webs store and let them do the rest themselves, but soon I realized I needed to help the women with designing, taking good pictures, writing stories, shipping products out of Uganda and finding them a local and international market to sell their products on. In addition, I started helping the women with income generating activities, social support, medical treatment and English classes. I did this all remote while being myself back in The Netherlands after living abroad for 3 years. To earn a living myself at one point, I stared working full time for Calvin Klein. But after six months I felt burned out and I knew I had to make a decision, going 100% for 22STARS or stopping the whole project. So, I decided in October 2014 to rent out my house in The Netherlands and go back to Uganda and live the other months nomadic. The project evolved and there is now also a project unit in the in one of the poorest areas of Jinja, the Danida slums, where also many refugees settled down. Many of the women that we are working with already improved their lives significantly, by building bigger houses, going back to school and finally eating healthy.

At Nomad Cruise Nr. 1 I talked about the many children that were working in the stone quarry and were not going to school.

While telling my story during my talk at Nomad Cruise number 1, I also talked about how many children are still working in the stone quarry, like Susan did one day with her kids, and are not going to school. We only help a certain number of women, but the community consists of hundreds of kids in need. So, thanks to some brainstorming on Nomad Cruise nr. 1 I launched on the cruise a GoFundMe campaign. Many Nomad Cruisers were among the first to send me donations for the children in Acholi Quarter in Kampala.

At Nomad Cruise nr. 2 I talked about the kids we started sending to school and on Nomad Cruise nr 3 and 4 I could proudly present some numbers; 100 children found a long-term sponsor!

So, after the cruise I went back to Uganda and started sending the first 15 kids to school for Term 1 2016. I never wanted to take pictures of the kids and be like, look how poor they are and look how much they need your help. However, I was also scared to not get continuous donations in and to tell kids the next term that I did not raise enough money. And as a fact, story telling through pictures is one of the most power tools I discovered so far. Nomad Cruise number 2 started. I was back on the boat to tell people what we did and showed them pictures and the idea was born of long-term sponsorships. And not only that, people started asking me whether they could come to Uganda and join me over there, and soon the first nomad cruisers came to Uganda!

In 2017 we also started hosting 3-week long Social Workations in Uganda to fundraise more money for the foundation

Idea number three was born on the nomad cruise: Social Workations for Digital nomads who want to make an impact. Bastian Barami was the first nomad cruiser who came to Uganda to help me out fundraising and storytelling. Soon after Theresa Grotendorst and Diego Araos joined among other digital nomads and this summer I had the pleasure to have Daniel Hünebeck and Antonio Carill over here. I went back on Nomad Cruise number 3 and number 4 and the number of cruisers sponsoring kids kept increasing. As of April 2017, the Foundation 22STARS KIDS is officially registered and we are supporting now more than 150 kids! I hope to keep this number growing, as there are still many kids in need of education and also to keep fundraising to cover their medical needs and provide them with basic supplies like clothes, food, clean water, mosquito nets and matrasses. Education is definitely the key to fight poverty and disease and the best way to help people long-term.

In Uganda we work in Acholi Quarter slum in Kampala where Susan Laker is our project manager and in Danida slum in Jinja David and Aidah Wafula are our managers.

In Acholi Quarter in Kampala Susan Laker is our project manager for the 22STARS KIDS FOUDNATION and helps me with everything on the ground. In the Danida slums in Jinja, David Wafula (who I met in 2009) and his wife Aidah are helping me with the project which counts 40 kids now and about 20 women making jewellery. A few times a year I am months at a time in Uganda. But when I am not here I am super happy that Susan helps me with everything and keeps a close eye on the kids and families. She has a laptop, a smartphone to take pictures, internet access and WhatsApp, so we are in contact on a daily basis. Who would ever have thought that when I met her years ago, totally sick and not able to talk to me directly? And even just two years ago I had to write Susan a text message to her phone and tell her to please go down town to an internet café to check my emails. But things here have been improving fast and with little things you can make a huge impact.

The best advice you can get is from people living on the ground. Susan is our eyes and ears on the ground in Kampala

Susan is also the best person to seek advice from as she is living herself in Acholi Quarter and knows how life is over there. When I ask, shall we buy the children some toys, she is the first to tell me that there are still kids who don’t have a sponsor and need to go to school. So only with extra donation money-after we paid school fees of also 10 children without a sponsor - we buy the children toys and other fun things. Thankfully, we were able to do so every term. Susan also pushes the caretakers/parents where possible to take care of the basic needs of the children themselves, so that they keep their own responsibility over them, and don’t expect me to also come over to wash their clothes. Susan is a real super star. As she knows how it’s like to be completely helpless she has the biggest heart I have ever seen.

From helping out a woman in need to becoming close friends! Life is about friendships, making fun and sharing moments.

When I ask Susan, who is your best friend, she will respond to me that all ladies are her best friend and that she loves everyone. And I guess that’s just one the many similarities that me and Susan have, we both love people. Recently I took Susan also to Murchison Falls National Park, and I took her and the ladies out at night to some nice places in Kampala and teached Susan and some of the other kids how to swim. It has been such a blast and I hope for many more fun times to come. In the past I felt sometimes a bit lonely here in Uganda as there was no one I could share my experiences with, but thanks to the Nomad Cruise and all people who listened to my stories and support us I feel I am not alone anymore in this, together we are making an impact here in Uganda and can be an example for people worldwide. Join me on my 22STARS journey and become also a Social Nomad like me, aka a mix of a Digital Nomad and Social Entrepreneur. But even if you are none of them social nomads are also people who travels consciously and make a positive social impact wherever they go.

A big thanks to all Nomad Cruisers!

In particular, I would like to thank in this post all the Nomad Cruisers who are supporting one of our kids long term and Bastian Barami, Diego Araos. Theresa Grotendorst, Daniel Hunebeck and Antonio Carril for visiting us in Uganda.

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