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Handmade Beaded Jewellery From Kenya

Walking through one of Nairobi’s shopping malls, my eyes were caught by the bright colours of bead jewellery in one store.  I had to have to look!  The name of the shop was Kazuri and there began my education about one of the most effective community projects Kenya has seen.

I learnt that the beads were each handcrafted by women based in a factory in the suburb of Karen.  So that was my next stop.  The factory began in 1975 as a small workshop where women experimented with making ceramic beads by hand.  Initially, the project was established as an income generation project for single mothers.

It continues today to be a source of income for some 340 women but now has grown far beyond its humble beginnings.  Having perfected the ceramic beads, they produce them from acquiring the raw clay, purifying and processing the clay, crafting the beads, drying, glazing and painting the beads, firing the beads in a kiln, sorting and storing the beads, and finally stringing them to make necklaces and bracelets all within the factory in Karen.  Using the word factory conjures images of a huge production process, but really it is still small and intimate despite producing over 5 million beads a year.  And this scale of production is necessary with retail outlets in five of Nairobi’s major malls, three in Mombasa, one in Kisumu and a shop co-located at the factory – the output the women produce now has certainly increased over the past four decades!  It also exports to more than 30 countries worldwide.

“Kazuri” is a Kiswahili word meaning “small and beautiful” which aptly describes the ceramic beads produced.  The vibrant colours give the Kazuri brand a distinct look and the ceramic beads are somewhat unique in the jewellery industry.  The mission of Kazuri is “to provide and sustain employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society.”  As well as employing single mothers, Kazuri has a clinic which provides free medical care for employees and their families.

The factory is open to visitors and makes a pleasant stop on a city tour as it is very close to the Karen Blixen Museum and also in the vicinity of the Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage.  Large trees provide shade as you enjoy a soda before or after your tour of the workshop. And the large shop on the site sells much more than simply jewellery – pottery crockery, leather work, hand bags and art are also available.

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Interview With Rebecca Lolosoli, Chair of Umoja Women’s Group

After visiting Rebecca several times over the course of a year, OTA interviewed her in September 2013 to share her story of Umoja Women’s Group.  She founded Umoja in 1990 to help Samburu women suffering from domestic violence and other abuses find a safe refuge.  Over the decades she has met incredible opposition from the Samburu men, but against the odds she has established a haven currently housing 58 women and recently ran for a political position in her community.

My name is Rebecca Lolosoli. I work with Umoja Women’s Group which was started in 1990.  We started a women’s village and in 1990 we had three women; now we are 58 women.  It’s a village where women run to, like a shelter for the women.

We are fighting for the rights of women, the rights of weak families, and the rights of girls.  Samburu women don’t have rights.  So we fight for our girls to go to school, to choose their husbands and to own anything like land and livestock as any other human being can.  This village is the shelter for women where women and girls run to during their problems, such as early marriages, early pregnancy, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  We also try to help those girls that get pregnant before FGM because their baby will be killed so we try to protect the girl and protect the baby.

OTA's Turkana Festival Tour in Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

And now also the women work fighting for peace. We need peace in Kenya and we want to have peace with other communities like our neighbours – the ones who are fighting with Samburu: Borana, Turkana, and Pokot.  So we think the women are to bring these changes of peace and we want to network with our neighbours (the Borana, Turkana and Pokot).  We want to visit each other and try to see how we can bring peace between us because we are the victims.  It’s always the women and children who are the victims.  That’s why we have to think again about peace because there’s no development without peace and that’s what we are trying to do with Umoja Women’s Group.

OTA's Turkana Festival Tour in Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

You can visit Umoja Women’s Village at Archer’s Post, near the gate of Samburu National Reserve.  Rebecca also runs a campsite close to the village where tourists visiting the Reserve can stay.  The proceeds from the camp support the women in the village and their ongoing fight for women’s rights in the Samburu community.  Visit www.umojawomen.org for more information.

OTA is running a nine-day safari from Nairobi, Kenya to the Lake Turkana Festival via Samburu National Reserve and Thomson’s Falls in June.  The Lake Turkana Festival is one of the cultural highlights on Kenya’s calendar.  It includes game viewing in Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, visiting outback towns Maralal and Marsabit, and visiting the extraordinary cultural festival in Loyangalani.  Ten communities in this remote corner of the world coming together to celebrate their differences – don’t you want to be a part of that?!  Visit the website for more information http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information, or check the Event page on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/OverlandTravelAdventures

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