|Local Communities Making a Living Through Indigenous Skills
Against the backdrop of Mount Kenya at Laikipia County, a group of women are sitting under an acacia tree, engrossed in their work. Every few minutes, they converse, joke and laugh a bit, before continuing with their beading. On a table nearby, different beadwork designs are on display, from necklaces and baskets, to gourds and leather belts.
To the newcomer, the beadwork designs might look similar, but to those with a discerning eye, there are differences. Sometimes, subtle and other times clearly visible. The differences are not only in the designs. There are also present in the women’s dressing and more importantly in their language.
The group is made up of women from three different communities from Northern Kenya brought together by the need to create alternative income sources from their age-old tradition of beading. It consists of women from the Samburu, Turkana and Borana communities, who form the SATUBO Beading Group, abbreviated from the first two letters of their community’s name.
The three communities are primarily pastoralists, which means that they depend on their livestock for their livelihoods. However, a devastating drought experienced in 2008/ 2009 killed most of their cattle and forced them to look for alternative sources of income.
Soon after, the communities started engaging in unsustainable charcoal burning that was damaging to the environment, but three years later through the Zeitz Foundation, SATUBO Beading Group was born.
The SATUBO Beading Group is a community project envisioned to empower women and promote sustainable development of rural communities. Members of SATUBO primarily come from Jerusalem village, near Segera Retreat, the headquarters of the Zeitz Foundation. The village is made up of small, traditional huts constructed from clay and grass, which house as many as ten family members. The Jerusalem community faces challenges such as lack of education and poverty.
The women, coming from different tribes, are united in their common ambition to improve the living situation of their community and the name SATUBO has come to symbolize the unity and the belief that an individual is stronger through co-operation, a true manifestation of African philosophical tenet of Ubuntu – I am because we are.
The journey of SATUBO since its establishment in 2011 has been an interesting one. The beading group has worked closely with Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), a United Nation initiative working to change the way the international fashion business works. The organisation sees fashion as a vehicle out of poverty and assists the fashion world with embracing the skills of artisans in the developing world. EFI’s overarching goal is to empower women by creating work, so that by earning a regular income, women can improve the circumstances of their families and their communities. This principle well resonates the Zeitz Foundation’s holistic 4Cs approach - achieving sustainability through the balance of conservation, community, culture and commerce.
The group has also been involved in a project initiated by British designer and internationally renowned trendsetter Dame Vivienne Westwood. Dame Westwood appointed SATUBO to create traditional designs to be incorporated into her line of bags and accessories, which were then sold internationally under her own label.
Recently, the group went on a Look and Learn trip at Maasai Mara to exchange ideas and share knowledge with a community based beading group known as the Basecamp Maasai Brand (BMB). The BMB has been in operation since 2003 and on this trip, the SATUBO Beading Group got a chance to view alternative ways of running a beading and handicraft business. They were also introduced to other ways of working with new materials, new techniques for design development as well as e-marketing. This visit to Maasai Mara also allowed the SATUBO women to experience another part of Kenya, something most of them had never been able to do so before. The opportunity was an enormous motivation for the women and something they will always remember.
Indeed, the SATUBO Beading Group reflects the 4Cs philosophy of the Zeitz Foundation. It promotes conservation by creating an alternative source of income that limits the dependence on livestock and reduces overgrazing; the project benefits the entire community by empowering women and provides an important social setting for the group members and SATUBO sustains an important part of the local culture by preserving the age-old practice of beading and traditional design. Finally, the beading group promotes local commerce by offering uneducated women the opportunity to obtain an independent income and further financial freedom.
Importantly 70% of the income from SATUBO goes directly to the women themselves. The remaining 30% are spent to cover management costs – whatever is left over the group saves communally. The income has enormous effect on the lives of the women as well as the entire Jerusalem community. The women’s main priorities are their children, and they primarily spend their income on their children’s education and health. The elimination of middlemen ensures that the money benefits those that need and deserve it the most.
The beading activities have enabled the community to develop livelihood strategies that draw upon their own cultural and traditional heritage, whilst improving their livelihoods. The SATUBO Beading Group is a great example of how to communities can collaborate to combat climate change while at the same time greatly improve their sources of income.