Open-hearted experience in Kenya with Graziana Zanin

Experience, to some, is a journey registered in particular ways, engraved on one’s heart. Passion guided discoveries, accumulating memories of unique moments. Lockdown was for Graziana Zanin this, an unforgettable experience.

Italian blood runs in her veins and also in the romantic way she describes her life experiences.

Lockdown is softening in the Netherlands. Less distant than the video-calls, Graziana and I met in Arnhem, Netherlands, in the assurance that we both were COVID-19-free.

With her background in fashion design, a bright world opens ahead because as she says “with everything that she does, she puts passion above all, regarding work and people”.

Openly, she speaks about her relationships and the passengers in her life-journey. With an open heart, she describes her likes and dislikes regarding her ideal holidays, luxury hotels in France or Italy. “Never going to the bushes”, her quote to a holiday to Africa. How on earth did she get into Kenya?

It started when she worked as a public relations and advertiser for a company that supported good initiatives. For instance, The  Chicken Project, aimed to help women in Ghana, forced into marriage at a young age. Via this project, she adopted two boys, Brian and Chris, supporting them into a brighter future. Technology made overseas contact possible and regular, but the boys kept asking for a personal visit.

After seven years, she booked her trip to Kenya to meet Brian and Chris finally.

Optimistically she added “make yourself happy girl, live the moments. When you’re happy inside, you can make everyone happy!”

In February 2020, she arrived at the airport in Nairobi.

At first, Chirs and Brian were timid even though they knew her already. Soon enough they were comfortable with aunty Graziana. With joy, she describes the reaction of the two brothers with their premiere to the Giraffe centre and visiting the mall to play games.

“That’s my passion. I meant something to these African boys. I could cry, my heart jumped, and I was so happy seeing them smiling and forgetting their problems.”

Next in the programme was meeting the boys’ family in Kiango near Kisii (The Western Highlands), located five to six hours from Nairobi near the Masai Mara reserve.

“When we got there, all the family and neighbours were outside…I felt like Queen Beatrix.” So she talks about her first impression.

A “Mzungu” visiting the village is the news! In the African language, this is the term they use for Europeans (white people) that travels the world. “What I discovered over there, people are warm even though they have not much to share”. Graziana was living the moment of her life, and little did she know about COVID-19 pandemic.

Her family was worried, but Graziana was in a safe surrounding where fewer than six cases were registered. Sooner lockdown breaks.

Unfortunately, in this village were other issues such as children in hunger from single mothers that had to sometimes get into prostitution to feed them.

“At this moment, you learn the situation of others. For example, around me, children were begging for something to eat.”

Straightaway, thanks to her colleagues and friends, via Facebook, she raised money for basic food to that community. Maize flour, for instance, is the primary ingredient for their “Ugali” which is part of their every day’s meal.

“When I saw these people’s smiles like this woman from whom I took a picture. You could see that for one moment she forgot about everything but happiness and enjoyment at that moment.”

Her experience taught her to appreciate little things in life, from teaching to play Dutch cards-game to introducing spaghetti to foreign children and teenagers.

“This makes me a rich person. I already felt happy when I was there, but all this experience was a learning journey.” 

Open-hearted Graziana was meaningful, helpful, but mostly the voice for these people living in an under-developed environment.

How motivating her tiny goodwill gestures represents to the path she decides to follow, whether in her home country, the Netherlands or on a faraway land such as Kenya.

Graziana is rather content with her life accomplishments. From her failures, a learning moment, from her success optimistic conclusions that passion rules her reason for living.


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