Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma and his wife, Mrs Babli Sharma, with members of the Namayiana Maasai Group based in Ngong, Kenya.
6 March 2009
Commonwealth Secretariat assists craftswomen with designing and developing their products
Members of the Namayiana Women Group gather under an acacia tree beside their small storehouse. The women, from a Maasai community in the Rift Valley province of Kenya, chat and laugh together as they sew beads on leather bracelets and wire ornaments. All are wearing the beaded jewellery and dressed in their colourful wrap Maasai regalia.
Maasais are well known for their unique bead work. The jewellery, ornaments, beaded baskets, walking sticks and sandals they make are traditional in style and colour, blending those of the Kenyan flag.
The Commonwealth Secretariat and the Kenya Export Promotion Council are working with these women artisans to make their products more attractive on the international market.
“The idea is to take them out of the traditional crafts they do, based on received knowledge, and get them to produce market-inspired crafts that can earn them money and improve their business,” said Timothy Williams, Head of Enterprise and Agriculture at the Secretariat.
“So, we assisted them with product design and development based on international market demand. But we went further than that. We assisted them to test market the newly designed crafts at an international trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany, and also taught them the principles of product costing and marketing.”
Namayiana Women Group was established in 1985 to help women earn an income from selling traditional Maasai handicrafts. Based at the hamlet of Kikuma in Oloshoibor, a dry dusty town near Ngong, about 20 kilometres south-west from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, the group has 112 members.
Living in a semi-arid land many women here live in poor conditions and cannot afford education. There is also lack of access to water which forces them to walk long distances.
Given that few of the women working with Namayiana have any formal education, their employment with the group has enabled them to earn a stable income through the creation of beautiful bead work - a tradition that originated when the first Maasai was born.
“We got involved because we wanted to alleviate poverty among ourselves and in the community,” said Leah Tipina, Assistant Project Manager for the Group.
“The project has changed our lives. We are able to improve our living standards and even build better iron sheet houses,” she explained during a recent visit by Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma.
“We are able to do our bead work, sell them and get money that we never had before,” said Agnes Nouwason Marona, another member of the group. “We used to depend on our husbands to get food for us and our children but we now own something that belongs to us. Apart from earning an income we are also able to own property.”
After work, she heads home with friends and begins house chores. With the money she earns she is able to better support her family. Like her, most women in Namayiana were jobless before they joined the group. Now they are earning an income, making their products more marketable and improving their own lives.