Sunday, 18 December 2011

Chit Chat with xL

Levon Kendall, otherwise Big L otherwise xL, shadows your life at 2.09 meters or 6 foot 10 1/4. Size is important when you are an international Basketballer. Yes he is a big guy, but meet him and you'll see his spirit is humble and graceful like his lay-ups. Levon and I both grew up in East Vancouver, I watched him on the courts in elementary school as he and hung off the hoops with his Osh Kosh truckers hat and wallet chain dangling about. He was 10 years old then. Now he is 27 and our whole neighbourhood has watched him as he competes around the world and at home in the sport he was born to play. Although for Big L life isn't only about hanging out on the court. Levon has his own blog where he displays his talents as an artist / poet / photographer, writes about sustainable environmental projects, cooking and exploring his inner demons. This year Levon also started The Music Tree that promotes culture in communities and supports environmental grass root projects.

The reason I am interviewing Levon is because he and his family have been behind Up With Hope since day one. Without the unconditional support of the Kendall's, UWHs goals and dreams would have remained only as what kept me awake at night. This is UWHs attempt at gratitude

Sorry hermano, I am not a sports writer. Could you brief people on your rap sheet as a B ball player?
I'll just lay it out quick and dirty cause sports rap sheets are hard to make interesting even for sports writers.
-3 consecutive B.C. Provincial Championships. 5 years at the University of Pittsburgh. 4 NCAA Tournament appearances and 3 Sweet 16 finishes. 100 caps for the Canadian National Team. Including a bronze at U21 World Championships, as well as one appearance at the World Championships with the senior team.

Growing up in East Vancouver is a source of pride for a lot of us. Why do you think that is?
Cause East Van is the best! In all seriousness I think their are so many good things about East Vancouver that it's hard not to feel proud. The mix of cultures, the food, all the amazing people, the sense of 'neighbourhood', and all in the heart of the best city to live in in the world.

You are a socially and environmentally conscious human being, what inspires you to make positive change?

I could probably dig for a bunch of other reasons but I think the best way of describing this desire is that it feels natural and feels good to do. Probably being so fortunate and coming from a solid upbringing has made me want to make that a reality for other people as well. I grew up exploring mountains, rivers, lakes and the pacific ocean so I have a natural desire to help preserve those things. Having once tree planting 'hippy' parents also taught me a lot about respecting the environment and people in general.

Your ideologies are different than most athletes. You and I have discussed ways to make sure life is always enjoyed. Take a crack at explaining how we keep the west coast spirit alive where ever we go.
All we have is Now, but the past has made us what we are today. For me I don't know of any other way to be. I grew up in a laid back environment, surrounded by grounded people who taught me by example how to be happy. I've learned a lot, and seen a lot since living away from Vancouver the last ten years but those ideologies are so deeply engrained that they never change. Having good friends back home who aren't afraid to chop you down when you get a little big headed also helps too.

What is your vision for The Music Tree?
Well... lots of big ideas and possibilities for The Music Tree. In a nutshell I hope to create a global network of musicians and bands that can all work together to support grass root projects like Up With Hope. The satisfaction of giving is such a powerful emotion that I hope we can inspire people to really invest their energy into simple acts of generosity. And what better way to do it than through music.
Hopefully one day, The Music Tree will be a name people recognize around the world for throwing amazing block parties and concerts that support inspiring projects in their backyards as well as far away lands.

You told me you are opening a Basketball camp. Would you like to elaborate on that?
Myself and a couple ex teammates of mine and working on starting a camp in vancouver during the summers. It's a chance to share some of our knowledge and experience with kids in our hometown. Teaching is one of the best gifts to give and im hoping i can help some kids realize their dreams the same way I did. keep your eyes peeled for Evolution Basketball Camps this summer.

Your parents have also had a huge impact on Up With Hope. We are not the only youth they have assisted either. To me they are icons in our community. What can you tell us about Simon and Pauline Kendall?
Where to start?? I feel so lucky to have been raised by them. Parenting is no easy task and I give them all the credit for finding a balance between raising me and letting me learn on my own as well. It's a little scary how much like my dad I am. Luckily for me my dad is awesome. He's managed to provide enough for my family doing what he loves, playing music. He's inspired me to learn the piano and enjoy all that music has to offer. He's stoic, loving, smart and always there to support me and nudge me to do more. A legend on the organ and keyboards and a true rockstar.
My mom is the perfect ying to my dads yang. She's a jack of all trades and not your typical 'stay at home mom'. I always have a hard time telling people exactly what it is my mom does. Can't I just say a bit of everything? She's a real estate baron, artist, saleswoman, renovator, project manager, gardener.... to name a few. Known by my friends for her bluntness and pancakes, she has her edge but is one of the kindest and most helpful person ever. I have never seen her refuse a chance to help anyone no matter what the situation. Whether its financially, with love, a job, a second chance or anything in between.

Your amazing career as an athlete has taken you around the world and back. What's a favourite memory of discovering a new place or culture?
Thats an unfair question. It's far too hard to pick one. I've had so many good times tromping around random towns with my teammates, getting lost, chasing girls in foreign languages and generally having fun that I couldn't pick any one. This summer I got to see the Iguazu Falls in Brazil. Along with the Grand Canyon it was the most amazing thing in nature I have ever seen. The size and beauty of it was almost too much to comprehend. Things like that make it an easy choice to put my time and effort into improving our impact on mother nature.

Best part about coming back to Canada?
Food, friends and zeee french. ok well maybe food, family and friends. I still to this day get goosebumps flying into Vancouver and when that crisp clean air hits your nose I know everything is alright.

Stay tuned for when Levon makes a visit to UWH in Kenya sometime next year.

Also check out this video called "Living The Dream" That him and I made when we were hanging out in Greece a couple years ago.

Friday, 9 December 2011


2 posts in one day? Unbelievable.

I've been wanting to post this video online for a while.

POA ROWE is a video we made with the Mathare in Motion crew. Mathare in Motion is a group of youth who I have had the pleasure of teaching video production and how to cover stories in their communities sort of the way I am doing with this blog. They are a wonderful group of people and when Jeff Mohammed approached me to make this video I jumped at it.

Less than a month after shooting we had won an award for "Best Documentary" at the 2011 Slum Film Festival and was part of the "Official Selection" for the 2011 Kenya International Film Fest.

We shot it in one day for zero dollars during a sunny sunday afternoon, the chruches were all blasting gospel in full force and thats why we had to do voice overs for all the dialogue. In the video you hear some real Nairobi sheng language and this is one of my favourite things I have made.

Also here is something we did for Film Kenya

Optimus Prime Real Estate

Tomorrow is going to be the last day of work for a short time while we wait for the cement to dry. We expect to be slaughtering some juicy goats up on top of our new first floor within no time.

Crazy times when manning up is do or die. More on Bena later (The guy on the right)

For over two months members of the area have been helping tirelessly on this project. For those who have never had a chance to visit Nairobi or are unexperienced with youth groups, getting a building of this size funded for a group of youth in the ghetto is not really normal. That is why we would like to extend our gratitude to the CDF. Especially The MP of Starehe Honorable Dr. Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, K1, Bonfide Contractors and Mama Ice for keeping us from burning up everyday with your delicious popsicles.

I live for this work. Being outside in the sun, with your friends, sweating, yelling, getting massive blisters and singing "Rudolph the red nose reindeer". Throughout all of my experiences I feel like my skin is a thick sheet of alligator hide (although I seem to bleed out some ounces everyday on sharp metal and nails). As much as I wish my skin was the thickest, there are some who will always have double thick alligator skin than I do. Kaka and Bena are two examples of people who have that impenetrable spirit who can accomplish anything at anytime. To put it simply they are real soldiers.

Yesterday, we were unloading a machine from a truck. It is a very heavy machine that we will use tomorrow to lift the cement from the ground up to the the top floor. To unload it there has to be some wooden planks for the machine to roll down on. I was directly in front of the machine acting as a blocker so that it would come down straight and not fall off the side. We reached a third of the way down until I heard a very loud CRAK! One of the planks had snapped in half and now the machine is nosediving off the side where the wood broke. About 10 guys had hands on the machine and all the ones that were on the falling side flew back and knocked over about 20 stubbornly curious children.

Bena (Above) had his weight on the machine almost fell on his stomach. I watched the machine graze over his head as he just barely managed to pull out backwards with a corner of the machine taking a juicy piece of meat from his shoulder and arm.

So as much as I love this work, sometimes I get so angry inside because I wish we had safer conditions to be working in. If something happened to Bena I would have lost a brother and one of the very few people on this planet who aren't afraid of a few scratches to get the JOB DONE.

Transformers are real

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The way things age.

It's interesting how things age. When we opened up our centre in Mbotela in 2009, we built it so it would be used as a recycling facility. It still is a recycling facility (when enough plastics have accumulated to be processed) which helps generate income, but it seems like everyday there is some new creative business going on in inside. Today was no exception as guys came up with one of the most beautiful creations of different materials I have seen in a long time.

This is the idea have it lit up. What? Amazing...

We interrupt to show you Miriam. A very cute baby.

These guys came up with this for wedding decorations but I think these should be the next cool thing for clubs or something.

I couldn't be happier with how the centre has evolved since we started. It has turned into a vibrant creative centre (which by the way even has HIV testing and councilling on weekends)that grows vegetables and helps guys bring their ideas into reality.

And a wicked place to stay in shape.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


A month and a half later we have finally finished the massive foundation that took some serious skin off our knuckles. Still lot's more to do and everyone is doing their best to keep the chain strong and the spirits high.

It is going to be the best youth centre in all the lands.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Boom Boom goes the dynamite

If you happened to miss one of the best parties in East Van this summer, here's a video of the Boom Booms 4th Block Party. All the money raised from the event went towards a new foundation called the Music Tree which decided to make Up With Hope their first beneficiary.

This is why I love East Van.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Back in Action

It's been a little bit since my last post *cough* 29 months *cough*, and we've left all the blogging to Nathaniel for way too long now, so I thought I'd try to get back on this train with a quick post here to get the juices flowing again.

I'll leave the stories about the recycling centres and the projects that we are currently maintaining to Nathaniel, since he's the one on the ground there, and try to bring some attention to any and all issues related to the work that we have done and would like to do.

One of the things that has always impressed me in Kenya is how they have managed to adopt technology to fit their surroundings. Mobile phones are used in so many innovative ways that I would have never thought of.

For those of you that haven't been to Kenya or East Africa, you may not have heard of a thing called M-Pesa, which is a service provided by Safaricom (the local telecom). It's a simple but effective medium for money transfer which uses cell phones to text money to one another. Everyone and their dog has a cell phone in Kenya, but not everyone's got a bank account. Watching it in action is pretty remarkable, if you want to pay someone for a day's worth of work but don't want to carry cash on you? Text it. Need to borrow a few bucks from your friend but he's across town? Text it. Want to pay your utilities but don't want to wait in line? Text it. The part I like about it the most is the fact that all this money is being moved around without any banks being involved (asides from the Commercial Bank of Africa that acts as a float), they're occupying wall street without even knowing it ;) Here's a good article about it from the Economist.

Mobile Movement takes this concept to another level by not only providing funds through phones, but technical expertise and microcredit to individuals and groups that are trying to make a difference in their communities.

And finally, here is another simple but effective use of the cell phone: report cards. The people at Tusquee Systems, a Kenyan-based company, have come up with a method of texting students' exam scores, attendance, and other school-related information to parents. All I can say is that I'm glad that this was invented after I graduated from high school...

Although this has nothing to do with cell phones, today is apparently the day that the world hits the 7 billion marker, so I thought I'd leave this NPR video to illustrate how we've gotten to where we are.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Occupy Mlango Kubwa (These pics are for you Karis)

Youth globally continue to express their dissatisfaction with the system that is making it more and more difficult to have any future prospects whether it be getting a decent education or paying rent. I am a big fan of anyone who chooses to speak up and raise shit against the minority of people who seem to make all the big (and destructive)decisions.

The feeling with the Pequi youth in Mlango Kubwa is very different than that of Wall Street or Syria. Together as youth we have proven that solidarity and determination is the only way forward.

The construction of the foundation has taken over three weeks (still not finished yet), The floor will be built on at least a couple pints of our blood, sweat and the echoes of our screaming matches and songs.

We are also working with a really great contracting company so there is no cutting corners and everything is running on time and silky smooth, much respect to Bonfide Contractors.

The cement we are using has extra bonding chemicals and has stripped all of our hands of its skin leaving a tender bloody surface. Not much we can do about it but to wrap them up in some bandages and keep going.

Big man Tyrese and OG Pequi member who keeps everyone in check. Him and I carry around the 100 kg stones for the foundation and it's super intense and fun.

Employing the young people of Mlango Kubwa and members of "Pequi" for the job has made the project so much more enjoyable.

Throwing in a picture of yours truly while I use one of my favourite power tools. So that's the update. Now I'm gonna bounce from this smelly ass cyber and get over to the site because I'm late.

It's a new dawn and the struggle goes on

Thursday, 20 October 2011


Yo! The YOUTHS HAVE SPOKEN. Around the world people are demanding change. Up With Hope fully has it’s ear to the ground. One of the centres built by Up With Hope is undergoing construction in Mathare. The Pequininos Youth Resource Centre is currently being reconstructed by the CDF (Constituency Development Fund) of Starehe thanks to the Glorious MP Hon. Bishop Wanjiru. Also much praise to our amazing friends in London, the architects Katherine Hegab and Simon Tonks. The centres are used by the communities and organizations for outreach, dance groups, doing homework and most importantly, a place where idol youth can come to be a part of the community.

Building these things is the funnest thing ever. Wish we had some volunteers to come get dirty. I’ll try to get some photos up soon, but the construction is time consuming. 6 days a week, chain smoking, sweaty.

It has been a lot of work to get to this point and this is just the building.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

BOOM BOOM BLOCK PARTY IV Music Tree Foundation Launch

There are some really amazing people out there who never stop blowing my mind. The Boom Booms and Music Tree Foundation recently threw a giant block party with the proceeds going to Up With Hope. We would like to give our thanks to all the people who helped make this happen.

The Music Tree Foundation is helping keep culture alive in communities and supporting environmental grassroot projects. Very honoured to be a part of this.

And can never say enough thanks to the Boom Booms , these guys know how to make it happen. Check out the sound!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

we r the weeners

So we won best Documentary at the Slum Film Festival. It was really a big surge of encouragement to me and my crew. Big ups to Mathare in Motion!

Shooting movies in slums is #1 most stressful thing I do in my life. Within 2 minutes of setting up you have a crowd of 100 kids, grandmothers and drunks running around you, asking questions, trying to touch the equipment. It's really hard to not snap and sometimes I do. This little video I shot during the whole fest I think shows exactly how ridiculously hard it is trying to stay organized while shooting in one of the biggest slums on earth. It was a really great event and I hope it keeps going. This was the first ever Slum Film Fest (We think in the world, but we still can't figure that out).

Slum Film Festival 2011.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Up With Hope in High Def

Here's a little video I put together last week showing how Up With Hope gets down in Nairobi.

Untitled from Nat Canuel on Vimeo.

Monday, 15 August 2011


Mathare in Motion is volunteering for the first ever slum film festival being held in Mathare. We have even put in submissions.It's being put on by our friends over at Slum TV and the Spanish Embassy.

If you're in Nairobi you better not miss out it's gonna be a crazy week.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Rest In Peace Andrew Macharia

On June 29th our dear comrade passed away. “Macharia” was a not just my friend, he was my colleague, teacher and role model. He was also my neighbour. During walks I would pass by during the blazing noon sun to get some shade and catch up with who I knew as the “it guy” for recycling. Situated smack dab in the middle of the chaotic Eastlands of Nairobi is a little Shangri-La Macharia started back in the 1970s. A piece of fenced off land dedicated purely to the research and advancement of waste recycling. As soon as I sat under the tin roof, next to the massive boiling pot of rabbit stew, a strong sense of relief took over. “Who has to worry about garbage? The answers are all here” I used to think. There you could learn about almost every way to recycle waste. From plastic bags to goat shit you name it they were making money off of it. Rows and rows of huts filled with chickens, rabbits and goats processing all the organic waste from the locality. Young men busy getting dirty, working with one of the machines processing plastic, women outside looking after the growing vegetables. It was harmonious, and everything I want to be doing.

Macharia spent a lot of time gathering support for these types of programs. He was completely transparent with his business so others could replicate it, specifically youth. Together we trained hundreds of them on how to make money from abundant local resources surrounding them. Him and I attended tons of waste management meetings with city council, steering committees and international organizations.

I forget sometimes that Macharia had been doing it for 40 years. It’s not easy and I get frustrated at all the emerging obstacles, but then I remember the stories that Macharia had to go through to get where he did. He was an irreplaceable asset to society. Dedicated towards community growth and environmental conservation. Every neighborhood in the world needs a Macharia. Now with one less it is truly a tragedy.

Mungu aweke roho yake mahali pema peponi