By Susan Walker
In 2007 I traveled to Kenya to work with a group of churches and individuals in the world’s second and third largest, slums, the Kibera and Muthare slums. During my month long stay I was asked to go out and visit a Maasai tribe. I saw it as a great opportunity and agreed to go and meet with Chief Ole Sadira and the Elders and members of the tribe there.
Around noon the next day a van came and picked me up and we began a journey that would change my view of the world and life forever more. When asked to go out to the tribe, I didn’t think to ask how far we would be going. Living in the United States gives us a different size relationship view than much of the world has. Most countries are small and compact and can be traveled in one direction in a day or two at most. On this particular day we traveled about 5 hours out into the Serengeti on the border of Kenya and Tanzania. Along the way we stopped and picked up a variety of passengers until the van was over flowing with conversation, colors, and smells. Thankfully, I had packed a few snacks in my backpack and a couple bottles of water!
It was a wonderful meeting and we had a great time of fellowship together. After our meeting the women brought pots of roasted and stewed goat and veggies and the men brought crates of cold Coke! Their request was that I help find someone to help them build a shelter for their church and school as they currently met under trees, as we were doing that day.
A year later I returned with a team and we built that shelter. We also taught some of the men to use hand drilling equipment to drill wells and they drilled three fresh water wells.
I’ve returned on several occasions since then, building a small school of blocks and bricks, some of which were blocks we made from termite mound dirt and cement mix and sand that we made ourselves. The goal was to teach the men of the tribe to make blocks and how to build with those.
It was during one of these many trips that I realized that the best way I could help the tribe and the families was to help the women. Research and experience shows that if we can give the women a way to have an income it will change the quality of living for the entire family, whereas doing the same for men does not. It is just a fact of the social structures in many countries.
The women of the Maasai make lovely beaded items which they spend days making and then sell for a few U.S. dollars or Kenya shillings. It is not enough to support their families or to help give them a future in a world that is changing faster than they can call their Mum on a smart phone!
It was then that I talked to the women about weaving. The Maasai do not have a weaving tradition, such as the people of Ghana and many areas do. So, there is no fear of messing up a tradition or a culture there. Giving them a new skill and trade will give them the opportunity to make new life choices, such as allowing their daughters to not marry at a very young age. The young girls will be able to go to school and then to college, if they choose to do so. They will have advanced medical care and better nutrition.
The weaving school will provide handmade pvc looms through micro-financed interest free loans to the weaving co-op. Because the looms will be purchased by the co-op and not individual women, there will be less chance that a woman who may have problems paying back the micro load due to a change in her family, such as illness or pregnancy or death. Also, with the looms belonging to the co-op there will be less waste. Different women can weave on the same looms on different days, if a woman’s family obligations prevent her from coming to work at the loom. Once the co-op and program is well established we will explore the viability of offering micro-financed loans for looms to individuals, backed by the co-op. Our goal is always to equip, educate, and edify (or build up). We always work to help people be self-sustaining and our work to be self-sustaining.
Once the women have attained a certain level of skills their products will be sold at fair-market value and the funds used to accomplish the goals of the program, again providing a fair wage to the women and sustainable programs through the co-operative to provide scholarships, nutritional programs, and medical care.