Lydia Tett Olet, an actress, producer, director and playwright, helps Kenyans in the UK socialise, network and invest back home
Cynthia Mukanzi @cynthia_mukanzi
After years of travelling around the world, Lydia Tett Olet decided to lay roots in London in 1995 and build a life for herself. She wasn’t terrified of new beginnings, but this shift in her life’s trajectory was a thunderbolt moment.
Determined to make something out of herself, Lydia, who had previously danced with Jabali Africa, The Mushrooms and at African Heritage, set on working hard. She chose the path of teaching people, especially those of African origin, about their culture.
She kept on dancing, drumming, then went into theatre acting and now film. “My first passion is teaching about culture, which I do in countless schools.
Some people of African origin in the UK have lost their culture. There is a big disconnect and it always breaks my heart to see children of African descent knowing nothing about where they come from,” she says.
Having children of her own also ignited her resolve to teach others about their identity and culture. She facilitates workshops in different schools to teach African dance, drumming, storytelling, art and crafts, which involve jewellery-making, batik creation, among others in both primary and high schools.
For storytelling, she animates it through song and dance to make it more fun for young ones. The actress also holds similar workshops in some colleges. Lydia also trades up as a TV presenter, playwright, director and producer.
On the celebration of Kenya’s 50 years of independence in 2013, together with 22 other thespians, she put up a play dubbed The Darkest Hours of Victory, in London. The play attracted a massive audience that was moved to tears.
“It was about Mau Mau’s liberation efforts that broke us from the yoke of the white man,” she says.
Another one of her biggest projects that brought her home is the upcoming annual July event, Kenya and Friends in the Park, which she runs with her associate, Mercy Kiminta and the event’s chairman, Peter Njiri aka Mr Seed. The festival, a celebration of Kenyan culture, debuted in 2015 with a more than 3,500 people in attendance. The number skyrocketed with the subsequent editions.
Last year, they hosted more than 7,800 people, 80 per cent of them being Kenyan. “The vision for Kenya and Friends in the Park is to bring Kenyans in the diaspora together to socialise, network, invest back home and give them a chance to interact with Kenyan Embassy officials on consular matters,” she says.
The vision was scary in the beginning, but her associate, Mercy, believed in the big picture she had in mind. So together, they approached people, including the Kenyan Embassy in the UK and the Foreign Affairs office back home. They were given the support and started bringing in local investors who were vetted by the Foreign Affairs office.
“Kenyans abroad send a lot of money back home to their families or friends who at times misuse it and not follow through with intended projects. Because of this, some have ended up with mental breakdowns such as depression. Some end up committing suicide,” she says somberly.
To bridge this gap and rebuild their trust, they made this part of the event’s priority. They introduced people to entrepreneurs who were successfully vetted and given the green light to do business abroad.
On socialising, Kenya and Friends in the Park unites friends and relatives who haven’t seen each other for years. They reconnect, new friendships and romantic relationships emerge. Obviously, running all these in a single ship in which she is a single mother takes a lot.
What keeps her sane at the end of it all is having her priorities in check. The Karibu Magazine chief editor knows what to focus on and doesn’t allow external pressure to mint her.
“Diaspora is a lonely place and people are under so much pressure to provide for their kin back home who may not be appreciative of the hustle. If you don’t have your priorities straight, then you might end up depressed. My children will always come first and no one else can compete with that,” she says.
Aged 20, 14 and 11, her children know that they are important to their mother. When she is at home, she unplugs from the rest of the world to give them undivided attention.
Another trick to thriving, she says, is living within your means and being content with what you have. “Don’t look at other people and try to compete with their flashy lifestyle. You won’t last long,” she says.