The following is a guest post by one of our ambassadors, Alexandra Baillie, who recently traveled to Kenya to meet with our Kenyan artisans and discuss how we can help them better on the ground.
My blue striped sisal basket was made in Kenya by the basket weavers of Kasigau. I didn’t realize what this really meant until I met the woman who made my basket. Her name is Hilda.
I visited Hilda in her village in Southeastern Kenya. It took me the better part of a day to get there by car from Nairobi, dodging oncoming transport trucks on the one-lane Mombasa highway until surrendering to the bumpy red earth roads of Kasigau.
Shortly after passing through a small village with Dubai Plaza at its center, we saw a group of women chatting around a sea of colour – their sisal baskets.
The Jora Basket Weavers welcomed me with song, dance and ululation, a skill I tried, unsuccessfully, to master. The group of over 60 members is one of about 16 basket weaving groups in the region.
Hilda is the Chairwoman of the group. She is also the main income earner in her family. Like many women in Kasigau, she uses her basket weaving income to support her family. This means anything from buying food to building a better roof to sending children to school. Hilda also uses her income to invest in other income-generating activities like keeping chickens and rabbits, and offering homestays to visitors. Hilda is an incredibly enterprising woman.
Basket weaving is an important source of income for Hilda, but it is also a great source of community. Many of the women I spoke to in Kasigau echoed this sentiment. When they weave in groups, they chat. They laugh, celebrate successes, and help each other solve problems. They support each other, both emotionally and financially.
As I sat in Hilda’s garden weaving, surrounded by women laughing and chatting in a language unknown to me, I thought about all the stories my blue-striped basket had heard and the community it had helped shape, not only in Jora, but between me and the women in Kasigau.
I also thought about the small miracle it takes to get each basket from the fading green hills of Kasigau to our living rooms in North America.