by Rikha Sharma Rani
Photography by: Pat Mazzera

Catherine Ndungu-Case, Cultural Ambassador

Who: Catherine Ndungu-Case, president and CEO of the Cheza Nami Foundation (

What: A nonprofit organization that seeks to promote understanding and appreciation of African culture through music, dance, art, and play.

When: After the birth of her twins, Ndungu-Case began searching for resources to help teach her kids Swahili, the language of her native Kenya. What she had hoped to find was something similar to baby sign language classes, which use flash cards and interactive play to teach babies how to sign. She came up empty-handed. Undeterred,
she started designing activities to do with her kids at home and, in 2011, founded Cheza Nami, which means “come play with me” in Swahili.

Where: Cheza Nami operates all over the Bay Area. A free community program is held at the Bothwell Arts Center in Livermore, and there is a six-week session every quarter at Mothership HackerMoms in Berkeley. Cheza Nami also conducts private programs in elementary schools, summer camps, and senior centers, and presents programs for corporations and at teacher training centers.

Why: “There are some really awesome qualities about African culture that I want to share,” says Ndungu-Case. Among those qualities is a strong sense of community. “My dream is for Cheza Nami to grow into a collective of artists—people who want to be a part of African culture and who want to share it with others.”

How: Cheza Nami’s educational programs are meant to be interactive. Participants may take part in a drum circle, sing songs in Swahili, and learn traditional dances. There is also a Mommy and Me program, where
parents and children sing, dance, play games, and listen to African-themed stories.

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