Meet the Bracelet Makers of Northern Kenya

By Love Is Project

2 years ago

In rural northern Kenya, resides a group of more than 1,300 talented women. These artisans of Samburu, Turkana, Maasai, Rendille, and Borana tribes live semi-nomadic lifestyles where they provide for their families while preserving local artisanal traditions through the art of beaded and leather products.

Though beadwork may seem like an invisible skill, the Artisan Alliance estimates that the artisan sector is the second-largest employer in the developing world after agriculture. This Fashion Revolution Week, we’re giving a voice to makers in the supply chain and shining a light on the people who bead our bracelets.

Ready to meet some of your makers?!

Meet Benedetta Kurinta | Star-Beader for Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy

Benedetta joined BeadWORKS in 2018. She learned the art of beading when she was a little girl. Her mother taught her to make traditional Maasai beaded jewelry and now she oversees a group of 15 other women who have made hundreds of LOVE bracelets for Love Is Project. As a single mother of three, she says, “working from home is a big advantage for me. I’m proud of my work, and I know I’ll never sleep hungry because of the money I earn now.”

Pssst: The women of BeadWORKS come together to identify Star Beaders within their group. Star Beaders become leaders, who issue materials, oversee production, perform quality control and collect finished products. There is one Superstar Beader appointed to coordinate all the Star Beaders of a particular region, she is a trusted member of the community and must have a good business mind.

Meet Pamela Kilwa | Star-Beader for Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy
Pamela joined BeadWORKS in 2016. Pamela was taught by her mother how to bead at a young age. She is now a master beader and oversees a group of seven women who have beaded lots of LOVE bracelets for Love Is Project. She has two daughters at home to whom she is passing on her beading knowledge so that the next generation can continue to express their cultural craft.

Pssst: The women of BeadWORKS come together to identify Star Beaders within their group. Star Beaders become leaders, who issue materials, oversee production, perform quality control and collect finished products. There is one Superstar Beader appointed to coordinate all the Star Beaders of a particular region, she is a trusted member of the community and must have a good business mind.

Meet Christine Shuel | Star-Beader for Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy
Christine joined BeadWORKS in 2016. Having worked with BeadWORKS for over 4 years, Christine quickly stood out as a highly skilled artisan with an eye for detail. She was promoted to a star-beader 1.5 years ago and now oversees one of the most active BeadWORKS groups. “Working for BeadWORKS has changed my life,” says Christine. “Before I began beading I had to live with my parents as I had no money to build my own house. Now I have my own home; look, it’s made of cement! And I even have a solar light!,” she proudly exclaims. Christine feels confident about being able to provide her two young boys with nutritious food, and school fees when they need it.

Meet Koita Kiloku | Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy
Koita joined BeadWORKS in 2019. Koita has been beading all her life, she was taught by her mother since beading is an important aspect of her Maasai culture. When she gets an order from Love Is Project, her husband will cook and take care of the children so she can work full-time beading. She says, “My husband has no work, so he is very supportive of my beading. It has helped our family so much. Now we can pay school fees, buy clothes, and more food. I love beading any color LOVE bracelet because they all provide me with work!”

Pssst: Income earned from BeadWORKS and Love Is Project enables women to survive and improve their families’ lives, without resorting to environmentally damaging activities such as charcoal production, or overburdening their fragile grasslands with sheep and goats. When women have reliable incomes which are independent of unpredictable rainfall, communities and wildlife are able to thrive – together.

Meet Nabiki Lesuper | Star-Beader for Kalama Conservancy
Nabiki feels that when you wear one of her bracelets, “it’s like spreading the gospel of love to people.” She learned to bead when she was very young and as a mother of eight children now. She’s grateful to work for BeadWORKS and says, “It has really helped me so much. It is through this job that we are able to sustain our families through school fees payment and food provision. This year we have experienced a prolonged drought and with the help of BeadWORKS, my family was able to withstand the challenges.”

Meet Rukia Abdullahi | Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy
Rukia joined BeadWORKS in 2016. Rukia became a business woman in 2014 when she opened a small shop in Ngare Ndare. She noticed many women gathering near her shop and beading beautiful products for sale. In 2016, she joined those women and began beading for BeadWORKS to supplement her business. She says, “Beading on behalf of Love Is Project helps me to keep my shop open. Some months my business falls short, so the money I earn from beading allows me to keep the business going till the next month. When she makes her bracelets, she thinks about how she defines love: “To me LOVE is a deep affection for something or someone.”

Meet Jane Kariana |Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy
Jane joined BeadWORKS in 2018. Jane farms her parents’ land, works as a security guard, and recently started beading to ensure her 6 year old son has the best future possible. Jane says, “Beading LOVE bracelets helps a lot—not just a little! Now I can buy fertilizer for my crops which ensures their survival. When I’m working security and am stationed at a gate, I can bead for a long time while waiting for the next car to pass.” She says, “LOVE is a big thing, it’s hard to describe. Even you and me when we talk to each other and understand each other, that is love.”

Meet Nancy Mwihaki |Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy
Nancy joined BeadWORKS in 2017. Before joining BeadWORKS, Nancy had no work, in fact she didn’t even know how to bead before joining the community. She saw other women in town earning money to bead Love Is Project bracelets so Nancy asked Star-Beader Pamela to teach her how to bead. She says, “Now I’m proud of my work. I believe I’ll have a good future. I hope all my children can now attend university.”

That is only a handful of stories from your bracelet makers in northern Kenya!

BeadWORKS aims to have 5,000 beaders by 2022. You can learn more about these artisans and the project by visiting BeadWORKS and the Love Is Project.