As the mixture of poverty and entrepreneurship caught her attention, she decided to spend an entire day with Naomi, a widow with three children, who lives in Kisumu.
“Naomi lives in a small hut, with mud floors and walls. The house has one door and no windows. The house is divided into two with a bed that they all share,” Gisele told a press conference at the UNEP headquarters on Friday.
That mid-morning, the house filled with thick black smoke as Naomi tried to light a fire and make a meal. Gisele says she struggled to see and even breathe, but everyone else was used to it.
“Naomi also takes care of some six orphan children… We started the day by walking several miles to collect firewood. Because it was my first time the women gave me very little to carry on my head.”
Though she still looked stunning walking back with the firewood, Gisele was stunned by the differences in their lives. She felt that these women with the sticks on their heads, babies on their backs and young children tagging alongside were Wonder Women.
“Did you know that 1.4 million people are killed by this dangerous exposure to firewood every year? We can stop this,” she said.
“We saw amazing projects that the local communities had come up with, and they’re so simple. They are creating clean energy that they use in their homes.”
“It’s the 21st century. Nobody should be living without something as basic as electricity,” adds the UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
The UN is celebrating 2012 as the year for Sustainable Energy, and Steiner hopes Gisele will be able to share stories of her experience in Kenya, to highlight the problem.
Gisele, who was appointed as a UNEP Goodwill Ambassador in 2009, says the experience has taught her a lot.
“I’d encourage everyone to just volunteer at the local community level,” she said, so that the projects can multiply and create as much electricity (affordable) as is needed.
It was Gisele’s first visit to Kenya and she wouldn’t talk fashion – only saying that she would definitely add Kenya to her list of beneficiaries for her flip flops charity.
The mother of one visited projects in Kibera, Kisumu, and the Mt Kenya region, courtesy of local NGO Practical Action in partnership with UNEP. She also planted trees at various locations.