In a deeply patriarchal society BeadWORKS women are slowly and respectfully finding their ‘seat at the table’ with the men, through their contribution to household and conservancy incomes.
This is Naisimari Lokorukoru; you can also call her superwoman. She is a mother of 4, one of only 2 women on the Westgate Conservancy Board, and a Superstar Beader in charge of 72 beaders in Ngutuk women group. Her day starts at 5am and typically ends at midnight. In between getting kids off to school, cooking meals, milking the cows and completing household chores, she fits in an average of 8 hours beading a day.“I love beading” she says.
“With the income from my beadwork, my kids are comfortable and able to go to school. I also don’t need to sell goats for money anymore, which means more milk for my family. But it’s not all about the money. With BeadWORKS, I’m able to use my skills, I feel smart. It’s about your skill and production.”
As a board member of Westgate, Naisimari is passionate about the Conservancy. “Before the establishment of the conservancy, Westgate was much poorer. People use to kill wildlife. We used to go for years without seeing a single elephant, now we see them every day. We love them as much as beading! These days, if we find a dead or injured animal, we are sure to notify the rangers.”
Naisimari Lokorukoru, from Ngutuk Women's Group, Westgate Community Conservancy
Like many young Masaai girls, Esther was married off when she was just 13 years old. Her husband moved her to southern Kenya, where they had 3 children. Poverty and a turbulent marriage left Esther longing to return to Laikipia, but her husband’s family refused to allow the children to go with her. She decided to go by herself, and sold beaded crafts to tourists in Laikipia. Her aim was to earn enough money to bring her children to Laikipia, and send them to school.
Esther has been with BeadWORKS for a year now, building on the skills she learned while beading independently. With a consistent income, she has been able to bring two of her children up to Laikipia, and send them to school. “As a single mother, I feel empowered by the opportunities that the income from BeadWORKS gives me.” Esther never went to school herself, but says that people in the community often assume she has a higher education because she is so wise about business, saving money and paying back loans. As a Star Beader, Esther has 9 women working under her.
Esther Ntimaslai Gilisho, Star Beader in Il Ngwesi Conservancy
Regina only started with BeadWORKS a year ago, but is already better than most. “I used to pass the women beading under the tree” she recalls, “and think to myself, what are they doing wasting their time like that?” Despite her reservations, she joined the Women’s Group.
“I am so proud of the money I make at BeadWORKS” she says “it gives me independence, I’ve learned money management skills. My kids will be able to stay in school with this income.”
The women understand that NRT-Trading can only operate in Sera because of the set-up of the Conservancy. “We take care of wildlife because of our conservancy” says Regina. “We all share this space and must try to live together in harmony. We report someone if they kill wildlife”.
Regina Lekamunyak, Star Beader in Sera Community Conservancy
At 28 years old, Regina is a mother of five children. Four of them go to the nearby school, but the 7-year-old must look after the family’s livestock during the day. After milking the goats, cooking for her family and doing the house chores, Regina spends her day doing beadwork. Her nimble fingers and expert designs reveal her superior experience. Regina has been beading for 10 years, but since joining BeadWORKS has become inspired to push herself in new directions with her craft. “I’m proud to be a Star Beader” she says, “I enjoy the challenge, and I have the respect of the other women in my group because I’m good at what I do.”
Regina oversees 12 Star Beaders and 25 beaders. She is responsible for quality control, ensuring equal distribution of materials, and making sure orders are made on time.
“With the income I made from BeadWORKS, I bought goats and started a small shop. I sell maize, cooking oil, and flour. It’s really great for my family.”
Regina Lenakae, Star Beader from the Naisunyai Women’s Group, Westgate Community Conservancy
“My favourite item to make is the 12 strand bracelet” says Saranto. She’s been beading for 9 years, and what would take most of us several days to make, she can craft in just 3 hours. Saranto is a Samburu from Kalama. A mother of 6, Saranto admits life was tough before her involvement with BeadWORKS.
“Now I feel employed, I feel secure. I can buy food, clothes and send my children to school. I even opened a bank account to start saving!” she says. The members of the Women’s Group are very aware of their fortunate position. “We sit under the tree doing our beadwork and think – ‘what can we do to help others?’ Business is doing well, so we are in a position to be able to lend money to those in need. It’s called a ‘merry-go-round’ where everyone contributes, and every few months its your turn to receive it.”
Saranto is in charge of about 10 beaders. She gathers, sorts and checks their work, sending back anything that doesn’t meet her high standards. “BeadWORKS has raised support for the conservancy because people see it as an avenue for employment and income. Because of this, it has also raised support for wildlife conservation.”
Saranto Lekoloi, Star Beader from Kalama Community Conservancy
Yiampan doesn’t know how old she is exactly. Not a lot of Samburu do. She guesses between 30 and 40. A busy mother of seven, Yiampan is a Star Beader in the Naisunyai Women’s Group in Westgate Community Conservancy.
In between taking care of the house, children and livestock, Yiampan finds time to pursue her passion; beadwork. “Although I’ve always loved beading, I enjoy it more now that I’ve joined BeadWORKS. There’s no stress when it comes to buying the raw materials, so I can concentrate on experimenting with different designs” she says. Like many of her friends, Yiampan’s husband wasn’t keen on her joining BeadWORKS. “He complained and we argued a lot. He was worried I was going to dismiss my household chores. Now that he sees how much it’s helping our family, he’s really supportive.”
Apart from a place to exchange products and access raw materials for the next order, the NRT-Trading market days are a good opportunity for catching up with friends. “I love to bead with other women. We talk about latest ideas, techniques and products. We support and inspire each other.” Yiampan’s income from BeadWORKS has reduced her family’s reliance on livestock. It has also made her more confident that all seven of her children will be able to finish school.
Yiampan Lesiyaroi, from Naisunyai Women’s Group, Westgate Community Conservancy
Hafaro is the genius behind our new beaded rhino product. She came up with it during a sample development day at the NRT Trading HQ. Hafaro is 52, with 5 children and 3 grandchildren. She’s been with BeadWORKS since the business started as an empowerment programme over 10 years ago, but remains as passionate as ever. She loves learning new designs and working with other women in other groups. Hafaro is lucky in that her husband, a policeman, is very supportive of her involvement in BeadWORKS.