Introducing Alex Martin, Kenya Foundation Team Leader

Alex Martin graduated with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy and went on to lead infantry, reconnaissance and special operations units in multiple combat deployments. Upon leaving active duty, Alex started a private maritime security company that served commercial shipping interests in the Indian Ocean. In July 2013, Alex was given the opportunity to join the Nuru family and serve as a Foundation Team Leader in Kenya. In his free time, Alex enjoys exploring and great stories told over good coffee. Below, find his initial thoughts, reflections, and hopes for Nuru Kenya.

Eliza’s House.  At dawn this morning Jake and I set out to Eliza’s house. The main road that leads out to the valley where she lives was bustling with families on their way to church and motorcycle taxi drivers and cows being moved along slowly by boys with sticks. It was a 7-mile hike in a light rain through lush hill country. Eliza is a Nuru Kenya employee in our Social Enterprise program and earlier this week she asked Jake and I if we would join her family for a Sunday meal. “Of course,” Jake told her with his sincere West Virginia smile. “It’s important to visit our employees in their homes and get to know them personally,” he told me later, “it’s a key foundation of the servant leadership we practice here at Nuru.” On the walk to her house Jake told me her story. It was a remarkable tale of courage, determination, and the buoyancy of the human spirit. After overcoming many challenges she was recognized as a leader in her community and was recruited to join Nuru as a field officer. She quickly rose through Nuru’s ranks and is now one of our many outstanding servant leaders. 

We arrived at Eliza’s house just after 8am. We helped her chop wood and played with her small boys. She cooked us a meal of chicken, rice, vegetables and tea. We sat in a small, dark room in her home and ate the tasty feast. Eliza truly admires Jake and he admires her back. They talked effortlessly as old friends do about family and the past…and about the earlier days of Nuru. Jake asked her if she would be hungry this season because of the Maize disease and the drought. She said, quietly, but assuredly, “my family will be ok.” And with little Geoffrey in her lap happily eating from his mom’s bowl of rice, she looked down smiled, and said they serve porridge at school for breakfast and lunch to the children whose parents pay a fee, and since she had saved prior and paid the school, her children would eat. Also, she added, she would have enough maize to feed them for dinners. And then she looked at me and said her family was full of love and that Nuru was a “miracle from God.” Soon it was time to leave and we exchanged warm hugs and I thought about how powerful it was to meet a natural born leader like Eliza as we made our way back down the road and into the valley and back into town that was still full of church goers and motorcycle taxis and cows being moved along slowly by boys with sticks.

Other observations.  (1.) Nuru’s Foundation Team-9 and our Kenyan staff colleagues are incredibly talented people. They all possess an adventurer’s spirit and a warrior’s heart. They are deeply passionate about their role in fighting extreme poverty. They are extremely smart, humble, low maintenance, and funny. They are frontiersmen, patriots of decency and tough. Getting to know them personally this past month has been deeply satisfying – not only to the existential end that I have realized how much we all have in common but also to the quite selfish end that since they are all such talented operators and creative thinkers, my job here will be much less challenging. As was my good fortune in the military and in business, I am again in the very privileged position of working for a team of people much smarter and more talented than myself.  (2.) The people of Kuria are, first, a beautiful people. They have high cheekbones and soft, kind eyes. They are, second, a soulful people. They sing loudly in church and greet you happily in their valleys. Their laughter is contagious. Most have never left their villages. They seem more certain about the absoluteness of God than the far-away, mystic ocean. Their world is the rich land and family that surround them. The life expectancy for a Kurian is decades shorter than a human life should be and so I feel like the Kurian people are, finally, a grateful and deliberate tribe who welcome Nuru so wholly because Nuru allows them to be who they are: strong, capable and resourceful. There’s much to learn from the Nuru farmer.  (3.) It’s only been a month here on project but I already feel that being here will have an enormous impact on my heart and consciousness. War leaves a man better and worse. But this feels much different. This next war.  (4.) Hemingway once wrote: “Going back to Africa after all this time, there’s an excitement of a first adventure. I love Africa and I feel it’s another home, and any time a man can feel that, not counting where he’s born, is where he’s meant to go.” Being here in Isibania, I can’t help but agree. (5.) We have our work cut out for us at Nuru Kenya as we drive towards continuing to create meaningful impact, scale the Nuru model and facilitate the exit of funding and facilitators over the coming years. But despite the challenges ahead, we are confident we will succeed. There’s no place any of us would rather be.

It’s raining now. I heard thunder and so I stepped outside and saw crisp white lightening sparkle and dance in a wine dark sky. I came back inside, wet. I’m listening to an old John Prine album. Tomorrow I’ll walk through the shambas (farms) and watch the farmers tend to their tobacco, beans, and chilies. And it will be a perfect day.    

I look forward to sharing stories of the wonderful people we serve and the wonderful people I have the great honor to work alongside in future postings. 

Until that time, here’s to Eliza, our Kenyan brothers and sisters, Nuru, and laughing and dancing under sparkling lightening and wine dark skies.

In relentless pursuit,

-Foundation Team 9

About Alex Martin

Team Leader, Kenya — Alex graduated with distinction from the US Naval Academy and went on to lead infantry, reconnaissance, and special operations units in multiple combat deployments. In July 2013, Alex was given the opportunity to join the Nuru family and to serve as a Foundation Team Leader in Kenya.

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