Photographs by Jackie Zhao
When I arrived in Nairobi, I came across Rachael through an Airbnb experience. Rachael teaches at a school in the PCEA Eastleigh Community Centre - an NGO located in the suburb of Nairobi, Eastleigh. At PCEA, there is a neighborhood church, primary and secondary school buildings, and a pottery studio. The pottery studio sells handmade work to support the efforts of PCEA.
The kids who attend the school are formerly “Street Boys”. Many of the students have previously left their homes to live in the streets of Nairobi. Rachael told me that PCEA serves as a school and rehabilitation center for them; the boys are taught classes by local teachers in Math, Science, Swahili, and English, and are additionally offered vocational training programs.
The pottery studio at PCEA sells work from its resident ceramicists to support the school and its operations. There, Rachael introduced me to Joyce, a potter who practices full time at PCEA. Joyce greeted me with a warm smile as she threw large flat plates on the wheel; by the time I arrived at the studio in the early afternoon, she had laid out dozens of pieces thrown that morning.
Joyce attended Kenyatta University where she majored in ceramics, and was the only student of ceramics in her class. I asked Joyce how she became a potter, and she responded with passion that she loved the craft. At university, she studied graphic design, printmaking, and ceramics - and eventually decided that clay was her calling. There are no potters in her lineage; growing up, her father, a carpenter, created every piece of furniture in Joyce’s home. She mused that he might have instilled in her a creative spirit that carries through in her work.
The pottery studio was impressive; it had ample space and housed numerous wheels and kilns used by its residents: three potters including Joyce. The pieces crafted in the studio are sold in the shop as well as exhibited locally around Nairobi. Joyce and the other potters hope to hold classes at the studio, and to bring more people to PCEA to visit and learn pottery.
The suburb that surrounds PCEA, Eastleigh, is known to be mostly populated by Somali immigrants, a small population of Kenyans, and an Oromo community from Ethiopia. Colloquially referred to as “Little Mogadishu”, its streets are lined with thriving marketplaces, kiosks, and restaurants. The shopping malls that proliferate throughout Eastleigh are made up of hundreds of small businesses and individuals selling their goods ranging from clothing to textiles, housewares, machinery, and more.