Kenyan rural women broaden revenue streams through basket weaving


NAIROBI -- A group of women deftly weave sisal baskets under the cover of a tree in a sleepy Katangi village in Machakos county, east of t…

NAIROBI -- A group of women deftly weave sisal baskets under the cover of a tree in a sleepy Katangi village in Machakos county, east of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

For these women, weaving has become a crucial source of economic empowerment and a significant part of their cultural heritage.

"The way I am dressed and the way I look is because of doing this kiondo (basket) business. I do not have anyone helping me," says Peninah Mueni, the group's chairlady.

"Weaving has seen me educate my children and do other things which would have been impossible if I were not weaving," Mueni told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Mueni's association of weavers which was founded in 2015, hails from the Kamba tribe, a Bantu-speaking community that resides in the vast southeastern Kenyan lowlands.

The name of the group in translated English means love your neighbor. It constitutes 30 women of mixed ages who identified a need to generate income amid scarce employment opportunities and low levels of education.

"In a month we can weave up to 70 baskets of different sizes; each member can receive about 15,000 shillings ($129.38). After we fulfill an order, each member is paid according to the number of baskets they have woven," says Mueni.

Their most recent order came from South Africa, where they sold 100 small baskets. Other international markets that they have penetrated include Ghana and China. Word of mouth has proven a successful marketing strategy for the female weavers.

The women unanimously agree that the group has been supportive when one of them falls into misfortune.

"We are like sisters here, we support each other with what we can, if one of us is sick we pool resources to support them. If someone has fallen sick in the middle of weaving we take up their project and still pay them," says Mueni.

The group's business acumen is demonstrated in their subsequent investments. They have bought 100 goats which they dispose of during important holidays such as Christmas. In addition, they are the title deed holders of a small piece of land within their locality.

"The goats are distributed among the members with each receiving a certain number to look after," Mueni says.

Jecinta Kimeu loops over one sisal fiber over the other, unheeding the exhaustion in her hands. It is an activity she has been doing since she joined the group at its inception.

"I can weave around 10 bags in a month and earn some money to fulfill family and personal needs. The group has helped me and I see myself continuing with this trade for a long time to come," says Kimeu.

In Kenya, the art of basket weaving is a long-standing tradition practiced by the Kamba, Kikuyu, and Giriama ethnic communities. It is an enduring undertaking that forms the identity of these Bantu tribes.

The preferred materials for weaving include sisal, reed, papyrus, bamboo and banana leaves.

At present, weavers line the inside of the baskets with a cloth and add leather straps as handles among other modern embellishments to resonate with the modern-day customer.

Kimeu affirms that the women have been compelled to tweak their weaving techniques to create better contemporary designs.

At only 24 years, Irene Syombua is the youngest in the group. She joined the women after witnessing their lives changed by weaving.

"As I sat with the women I saw that they made money and that changed their lives whereas I did not have anything to do. I am currently in the process of learning how to weave," says Syombua.

She offers advice to young people to desist from favoring white-collar jobs and instead try out whatever legal income-generating opportunity they stumble upon.

With the entry of young people such as Syombua, the chairlady, Mueni says that the art is likely to enjoy longevity and prosperity.

Among the challenges endured by these women include difficulties in market access, highly-priced raw materials, and exploitative middlemen.

This news comes from: China Daily

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