Class Notes Profile: Crafts Man

Former Marine Sonny Tai enjoys time with children in Kibera, Kenya, an impoverished Nairobi neighborhood for which he has raised funds for medical care, food, education and programs for youth and women. (Photo courtesy of Sonny Tai)
Sonny Tai helps support the inhabitants of an African slum by selling their artisanal wares online.

The six years Sonny Tai ’09 LAS spent in South Africa while he was a child left him with impressions of staggering poverty he’ll never forget.

“People living in cardboard and tin shacks with no running water, no sanitation—poverty on a level that most Americans just wouldn’t comprehend,” Tai recalls. “I resolved that when I grew up, I was going to do something about it.”

Today he is making good on that promise to himself. While serving as a Marine in Afghanistan (he enlisted after graduation from the University of Illinois), Tai read about Carolina for Kibera, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to improving conditions in a slum of Nairobi, Kenya. Through online efforts, he helped raise $4,300 worth of medical supplies for the organization’s clinic. In the summer of 2013, between detaching from the military and enrolling in the MBA program at the University of Chicago, Tai traveled to Kibera to visit the clinic. There he met Judy, a janitor who was making paper-bead jewelry from shredded magazines to raise money to send her son to school. Tai was inspired anew.

“I told her, ‘I can’t make any guarantees, but maybeI can do something for you,’” he says.

In addition to acquiring Judy’s entire inventory, Tai connected with other artisans and craft groups from the Nairobi slum. With the help of some of his business school friends, he went on to establish With Love, From Kibera (with-love-from-kibera.org)—a nonprofit website featuring Kibera products made from bones, beads and recyclable materials. So far, Tai has raised and returned approximately $1,000 to the community to support programs for youth, women, education, medical care and food.

“Every day I wake up and my mind is blown at how good I have it,” Tai shares. “This is an opportunity for me to give back.”