This is why I do what I do. More like 66 seconds.
I was reading blog posts to understand our artisan women in rural Kenya better when I came across something very interesting. The women in some tribal cultures in Kenya are considered unclean during their menses. For one week a month, they are shunned from their families and the community.
Most women are in a polygamous marriage. They have no access to contraception therefore have large families. They are responsible for making the huts for shelter, fetching water, cooking and cleaning, milking the cows, gathering firewood for light and warmth. The man’s role is to observe and advice. These women are overworked and underappreciated. If you have spent time in rural Kenya with the communities, you will know. If you haven’t, you should come along on my next trip.
When you spend time with them, you will realize how happy, kind and content they are. They are very grateful for every light in their life, they find happiness in simplicity. There is joy in their life – actual, authentic joy. They sing with peace in their soul. When they come together in their beading circles, they teach you about friendship and being neighborly. How can they be this unburdened with everything they face in their daily lives?
When I first read about the unclean week, I thought how unfair, how sad, don’t these people see how hard these women work, how can I change this, how can I help? Then I got the A-huh moment. Every month these women get a week off, they found a way to detach themselves and take a vacation. For one week, they don’t cook, clean, build huts, fetch water or care for their families. They don’t have to please their husbands or compete with the new young wife. They sleep in, relax, make themselves a meal and get a well deserved break. How clever.
I live in the ‘modern world’. We have cars, microwaves and supportive husbands. We have all the material things to make our lives easier and happier. Every day the modern mother cleans the house, cooks for the family, drives the kids to school, soccer practice, play dates, shops for food, reads the children to sleep and more. She gets an hour – maybe – to relax before going to bed. When that time of the month comes around, she shoots a cotton bullet up her hoo-ha and shows up. The modern mom does not get a day off. Studies show most mothers feel inadequate, they feel guilty for staying home with the children and not bringing home an income or for working and not spending time with the children. Maybe the unclean concept was invented by a woman who found a way to make the men think it was their idea!
Most mothers no matter where they are on the planet, give everything they are to their families. It is in their nature to nurture. It got me thinking about the unclean woman program. What if we could make the unclean week a wonderful, magical time. What if we could help the African woman feel loved, appreciated, pampered, clean and feminine. What if she could feel like she is on vacation, come out of it feeling happy, relaxed, recharged and ready to face another 3 weeks. What if it was a time to look forward to?
I thought of having a care package the women could pick up on their way to the bleeding hut. If it were me, I would want some clean underwear, sanitary stuff, nice smelling soap, lotion, pain killers, chocolate, food and beverage and some beading materials. This program is no where near a priority, it will be on the shelf until other more dire issues are fixed. I love it though and I am sure I’ll love seeing it into fruition. If you could imagine a care package for a menstruating woman in rural Africa, what would you want in it? What would you want in yours? What other ideas do you have?
Every color in the ancient African culture holds a special meaning and communicated something to the people around you. You attract what you send out to the universe. Even hundreds of years ago, fashion had the power to transform, make a statement and show your place in society.
Black: stands for the human struggle we must endure. It acknowledges that sometimes we go through hard times and to grow, we have to suffer. It is a part of life.
Red: Stands for boldness and bravery. Comes from the color of blood.
Yellow: Stands for Fertility and growth. Comes from the warmth of the sun that encourages new growth.
Blue: Stands for energy and nourishment. Comes from the sky and its power to send down rain to nourish the world and give it energy.
Orange: Stands for generosity and friendship. Worn in most ceremonies between families and friends.
White: Stands for peace and purity. Comes from the color of milk that was believed to be pure and a super food. Also used when trying to keep the peace.
Green: Stands for good health and production. Comes from the color of vegetation, food, and land.
Multicolored patterns: Stand for life in all its complexity.
We work with different tribes in different parts of Kenya. Every tribe has evolved in it’s own unique way over the last one thousand years. For example, the Kamba are masters at carving gorgeous sculptures from wood, the Kikuyu weave baskets from sisal fiber and papyrus reeds, the Kisii carve from soapstone. The coastal tribes weave cotton material and incorporate shells and pearls from the Indian ocean.
Our main focus is the Maasai tribe. They are nomadic pastoralists in South eastern Kenya. They have mastered the art of beading and craft every piece intricately by hand. Using beads and leather tanned from their cattle, they make jewelry, sandals, bags, belts, dog accessories and many more. If it can be made with leather and beads, they make it.
The Maasai live in a patriarchal culture. Women are responsible for building the houses, fetching water from the river, collecting firewood, milking the cattle, preparing food for the family and much more.
The man’s role is to observe and give advice.
The men usually take more than one wife. They believe wealth is determined by the size of the herd and the number of children. Women tend to carry the responsibility of feeding and clothing the children. They usually have little or no access to contraception therefore, no control over the size of the families.
Livestock is the primary source of income and food for the families. The men own the livestock. The health and size of the herd is greatly dependent on the weather patterns and available pasture to graze. In years when the rains fail, the consequences for the cattle, women and children is dire.
Women learn the craft of beading at a young age. The beads a woman wears articulate her place in society. Every color has a meaning. Every pattern sends a unique message.
Beading is also used as a way of building bonds among the women. After they are done with chores, they come together to talk, relax, fellowship, catch up with each other while beading.
The men sell some of the cattle to buy beads. Women with wealthier husbands have more ornaments and beaded jewelry. Women from poor households cannot afford beads and are not invited to beading circles. The cycle repeats itself through generations.
The men arrange marriages between their daughters and older, wealthier men in exchange for an agreed number of cows as dowry. In some villages young women undergo excision or female circumcision (female to genital mutilation) as a rite of passage. They are considered women ready for an arranged marriage and so, their adult life begins.
Statistics aside. My experience with the Maasai is warm and memorable. They are a colorful, musical, happy, grateful people. They take care of each other and go out of their way to be hospitable and kind. You can’t help but gaze in awe as they dance, moving the ornamental beadwork on their chest to make music. The young morans (warriors) jump higher than gravity should allow dressed in red checkered shukas, holding their spears and shields.
They have so much in common with native Americans. The beading designs, patterns, colors, dances and general way of life seems to share the same spirit.
Sawa Sawa Collection works with the women to help them harness the skills in beading. Through our 501c3 programs, we make sure every woman has beads and tools to create. We help them with designs that are simpler and fashionable. We buy all the products at a fair market price to give them a sustainable income. We use the profits made from the sales to improve their quality of life.
We work with other tribes as well. We hope as we grow and create a bigger market in the USA for the modern artifacts, we can include more communities and make a bigger impact.
The median age in Kenya is 19.1 years. More than 75% of the population is under 30. The economy does not support job creation for the youth. 74% live in rural areas with no access to innovation. Most young adults are have a high school education and a high percentage have a college degree. They are capable of working towards a strife free future given the opportunity.
Sawa Sawa Collection hopes to be part of the solution through our work and our programs. Our goal is cultural preservation and appreciation, poverty eradication, female entrepreneurship and empowerment.
Our programs include access to contraception, food and nutrition, education and training in ancient craft, and resources for the women.
Through empathetic, active listening, we hope to learn more about their pockets of need and be of service to the wonderful, hardworking women that make our ethical, fair, sustainable, global-changing fashion line possible.
Our priority is our artisan women in Kenya. They are the fuel that drives our passion. Our impact strategy is to help them overcome the unique challenges facing African rural women in Kenya.
We do this by appreciating the ancient skills they have mastered over their entire lives. Skills in beading, weaving, basketry, sculpting, art etc. We help them realize the value in their craft.
Through empathetic listening, we take away any prejudice or assumptions and really listen. We give them a chance to tell us what they really need and how we can really help. By not assuming what they might need, we get a chance to prioritize their needs and learn from them.
Our first priority is to make sure every woman has beads and tools to create. Any woman who wants to make a living should have the opportunity to do so. We buy the handmade products at fair market value to give them a sustainable income.
We use the profits to find lasting solutions to any problems they need help with. Here is where we shut up and really listen. Every village is different, every tribe is different. Different cultures have different ways of handling situations and different protocols allowing ‘outsiders’ in.
Empathetic listening helps us understand our place. We partner with the artisan women and allow them to guide us through their day to day experiences. Their happiness in simplicity is humbling. Their love and concern for one another is inspiring.
White in the African culture represents Purity and Peace.
The Maasai are nomadic pastrolists that treasure their cattle and everything they provide.
Milk is considered pure and a super food. It feeds the calves and the children.
The white color of the milk inspires the meaning.
Jewelry handmade of white beads communicates purity and peace.
See our collection of white Maasai beaded tassel earrings. Shop here.
This Thanksgiving we are grateful to be approved for a $10,000 a month google ad grant. We are grateful to google for valuing our work and acknowledging the impact cultural handmade products have on women empowerment, cultural preservation and economic freedom.
We hope to take this opportunity to grow our mission and our impact.
Giving Tuesday is a day to spread love and cheer to people and organizations helping make the world a better place.
Make a difference this Giving Tuesday. Donate to a nonprofit close to your heart. It takes a village to make our world the place we want for our children.
Join is on our Facebook fundraiser to raise funds to buy beads for our women artisans. Donate through our website or through our Facebook fundraiser here
Crowdfund on Google One Today here
Explore our collection here Help our mission by buying the craft that gives the artisan women a sustainable income. An earring is not just an earring, it’s food on the table for a family this season.
Have a happy Thanksgiving. So much to be grateful for.
We are a 501c3 nonprofit fashion brand based in Austin, TX. Our products are handmade in Kenya by artisan women in underserved marginalized communities.
Our organization represents an underserved community of rural artisan women in Kenya. According to research done by PEP, 44% of women in Kenya are poor and 95% of the poor are live in rural areas. Partnership for economic policy suggests poverty reduction policies relating to female entrepreneurship could be a lasting solution.
Sawa Sawa Collection partners specifically with artisan women in central and Eastern Kenya from the Kikuyu, Kamba and Maasai tribes.
Kamba and Kikuyu tribes have traditionally been farmers, they rely on growing seasons to make a living. The Kamba were originally sculptors and long-distance traders. The Maasai are nomadic pastoralists, their income comes from cattle. They depend on pasture in open fields to graze.
The women in these tribes practice beading, weaving, basketry, and sculpting during their free time for ceremonial rites of passage. Our organization helps them supplement their income by partnering with them. We provide them with resources, tools and materials to make more handmade items. We help them improve the designs and quality of the items and buy them at a fair market price. We find a market for the fashion accessories, sandals, bags, art etc. in the USA. The revenue goes back to the artisan communities through our sustainability programs.
Most of these women are in polygamous marriages or are head of households. The diversified income helps them pay for basic needs and raise a healthy family. This helps pave a way for a generation shift out of poverty.