GWA had the good fortune to speak with Murugi Kenyatta of Kazana Bracelets about her work with the Maasai women of Amboseli, Kenya. The Maasai women are famous for their beautiful beaded handmade jewelry. They’ve expressed themselves with their beadwork since before the Europeans arrived with glass beads in the late 19th century; prior to that they used clay, wood, bone, copper and brass. Today the women use seed and glass beads choosing colors that symbolically tell a story about their character, values and community.
In typical social entrepreneur form Murugi asked us to feature the women, their work and struggles, but something has to be said about this force of kindness and optimism that is Murugi. Her joyous spirit is infectious. She draws out the good in people as in the case of a student who voluntarily built Kazana’s website and another kind soul who managed her marketing. Please read on about the work Kazana is doing. Their goals are ambitious and with Murugi at the wheel, will most certainly come to fruition.
Q: Can you see a difference in the women as they’ve grown with you and Kazana? How so?
A: The most significant difference that I have seen since I began working with the Maasai women of Amboseli, Kenya, is the dramatic rise in their drive and determination to succeed in selling their beaded works of art to the global consumer. Through Kazana the women now fully understand the value of their name and beaded works, and that their community is renowned and celebrated around the world because of its rich and deep rooted culture and traditions. The Amboseli women’s pride level has risen ten-fold and the belief in themselves and in their unique abilities has taken hold. The women are confident, resilient and extremely hardworking. Here is a write-up that captures their true essence. Their only dream and aspiration is to be able to benefit directly from the sales of their products so that they can effectively manage their households and families, including educating all their children.
Q: You mentioned that you’re using some of the money to help with certain programs. Will you tell us more about the kinds of programs you’re involved with? And are the women on the ground running the day to day of them?
A: Kazana has a three-prong approach to the Amboseli women’s empowerment initiatives. These are the programs that the women are executing day by day:
a) Savings Program
Amboseli women are encouraged to save money from the proceeds of their beadwork so that they can have working capital to allow them to grow their enterprise(s) and to have some savings that can act as leverage when applying for a loan from a conventional bank.
b) Milk Processing Program
The Maasai people are pastoralists who take great pride in their large herds of cattle which are mostly managed by women. Thus, as the beadwork enterprise grows, Amboseli women will be able to generate enough revenue to help them start a milk processing plant that will in turn allow them to make cheese, yogurt, butter and other milk by-products to sell to the local, national and regional markets. The women have the blueprint of a successful milk processing business from their Tanzanian counterparts that they are hoping to replicate in due course.
c) Agriculture Program
Training in agriculture is a key part of the Kazana women’s empowerment initiative. Drought and related climate calamities has made it imperative for the Maasai pastoralists to consider agriculture as a critical measure of mitigating climate change risks. Kazana has initiated an agricultural pilot project in one of the Amboseli primary schools that is supporting the students in starting a school vegetable farm. The goal is to inculcate a culture of farming to the younger generation who will then be able to share the newly acquired skills and training with their families and future generations.
Q: And here’s a question that we’re always asked when we talk with people about social entrepreneurs such as yourself, what made you get involved initially?
A: As one who was born and raised in Kenya, I knew at an early age that women and girls possessed remarkable talents and abilities that were often downplayed, dismissed or remained untapped. I was inspired to right this injustice by fellow Kenyan, Professor Wangari Maathai. Dr. Maathai was a fearless environmentalist, social activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize — a role model and an inspiration for many African women.
I was motivated to follow my passion for women’s economic empowerment when I first heard Dr. Maathai’s call to action in a story she (Maathai) loved to tell, “I will be a hummingbird – I will do the best I can.” My answer to her impassioned call was to become a champion for women’s economic empowerment and to make a commitment do the best that I could to amplify the work and stories of women whose contributions were unrecognized and their promise unrealized.
Having worked in the women’s empowerment arena at the global level, I felt an obligation to share the skills and training that I had acquired with my marginalized Kenyan sisters, the Maasai women of Amboseli. The fact that the women had a brand name and celebrated works of art that were renowned around the world and yet had nothing to show for it, was an injustice that I felt compelled to right.
Thus, as the founder of KAZANA, our social enterprise seeks to celebrate and recognize unheralded East African women, the Maasai master beaders of Amboseli, by introducing them and their work to the socially conscious consumer. The aim is to direct the flow of wealth to these talented and industrious women by facilitating direct access for their products to the international market through fair and just trade.
We invite investors in women’s economic empowerment to invest in Amboseli women by helping them bring their three programs (listed above) to fruition. It is a legacy investment that will positively impact the trajectory of families and a celebrated community for generations to come. Supporters and well-wishers are also encouraged to travel with Kazana to Amboseli for a once in a lifetime safari that includes meeting the women in person.
If you can do anything to help please contact Murugi at one of the email addresses below. You’ll be very glad to make the acquaintance of this lovely force of life. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Kazana’s bracelets are gorgeous and available in a variety of vibrant colors. See for yourself! kazanabracelets.com