Artisans throughout Kenya make beautiful hand crafted items. Wood workers, seamstresses, jewelry designers and other artisans work together to create these amazing handicrafts. Through the sale of these handicrafts at Shop with a Mission, Heavenly Treasures is able to send hundreds of children to secondary school and young adults to vocational trainings in Kenya. Throughout the country, kids are born everyday into poverty and have no hope for a future. One of the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty is to educate the young people of Kenya, to give them a hope and help them reach their full potential.
Agnes is 51 years old and originally from Uganda. She is a widow and has 3 daughters (Marion 20 years, Maria Anglea 18 years, and Veronica 16 years).
Agnes has been making dolls since 1991. She makes them to pay for her daughters' school fees and basic expenses. Before making dolls, Agnes was attending college in tailoring, however, she mainly taught herself how to sew.
Agnes has faced some challenges in the past few years. With the increased rent prices at the market, Agnes had to downsize her business. Heavenly Treasures is one of the main customers supporting her work. She prays she will be able to expand her market to support her family. She also would like to see funds come in to get a new sewing machine. Please pray Agnes will see God's answered prayer in her life.
Agnes’ production process for making dolls and animals...
1. Trace the doll shape from a template & cut the material.
2. Sew the doll/animal.
3. Stuff with material & old blankets.
4. Stitch the face and hair.
5. Sew a dress for clothing.
6. Finishing--sewing of eyes, underpants and then dress the dolls.
7. Ready for sale!
The Black Mrembo Women's Group supports women and children with special needs. In Swahili, “Black Mrembo,” means “beautiful black women.” This project is made up of 10 women. They come together every Saturday to make hand dyed scarves, dresses, purses, and kitenge bangles. Their children gather together at a school that accommodates special needs preschoolers.
Alice, one of the women in the group, states, “Women are empowered through this skill and they are able to provide for their families.” The group started a year ago. Alice comments that "the idea to make and use tie dye material started from knowing tie dye is African and easy to make.”
“All women have needs, the doors are open for them,” says Alice. The women are allowed to be creative and present their own ideas and concepts to the group.
Craft African Gallery
Craft African Gallery was started by Omondi. Omondi and his wife have a daughter and a son. He supports his family, other artisan suppliers and their families through the sales of handicrafts in his shop. He estimates there are over 200 families that depend on his work.
Omondi grew up in Western Kenya. He attended school until 1999 when he was injured in an accident. He was in the hospital for a year and ended up dropping out of school. After being released from the hospital, he went to Nairobi where he worked for his sister's shop for four years helping her sell handicrafts.
In 2004, Omondi started his own business by meeting artisans and suppliers in the marketplaces. He learned to make drums from other artisans who helped him develop his skills. His dream is to open a big shop in a shopping mall. His prayer is for his family and the families of the artisans and suppliers he works with.
Charles and his wife Magdalene are the owners of Craft Options. They carve & paint birds out of wood. They carve over ten species of birds, learning the designs by looking up the birds in a book. They try as much as possible to carve an exact replica of the bird. Charles started Craft Options over ten years ago. He had been working as a mechanic for several years but was not content with the earnings from the work. The project started with his family and extended to his friends. He is also teaching other artisans the art of carving birds.Charles met his wife at the market. While he would go to the market to sell his products, he would meet Magdalene and they began their relationship. Now, working together, they care about the people that are impacted by their business. Magdalene says, “We reach out to young teen boys who are idle in the markets. They have no jobs and are not in school. We give them work to do in the market and at our workshop. This gives them skills and an opportunity that they did not already have.” Charles collects the timber from around where he lives. He goes to farmers and buys the cut off branches and logs. He then transports the timber to his home where he has his workshop. He has six employees who help in this work.
The handicraft process...
1. With a machete the wood is shaped into the desired bird shape.
2. The finer shape & detail of the birds are hand-carved with a knife.
3. The birds are sanded down
4. Eyes are drilled.
5. Holes are drilled into the body and legs are inserted
6. The birds are laid out to dry up any natural moisture in the wood.
7. The birds are painted and covered with a protective layer of varnish.
After this process, the birds are ready to be sold. Magdalene takes the birds to the various Maasai markets in Nairobi. At these markets, she is the one responsible for selling the birds and taking orders
CREATIVE ART DESIGNS OF AFRICA
Creative Art Designs of Africa was started by Christopher. Christopher was born and raised in western Kenya. After finishing high school, Christopher moved to Nairobi in search for work, but was unable to find a job.
Christopher first became interested in painting while visiting a cousin who worked for some artists on the coastal region of Kenya. Expressing enthusiasm in their art, Christopher was welcomed into the studio where he started observing their work. This is where he began to paint. He was able to paint replicas of the artists' work, so they hired him. However, six months later, the artists had to relocate back to the United States, so Christopher moved back to Nairobi and began working for a gallery.
Christopher worked there for a while but was soon challenged to start his own workshop. The gallery mainly employed graduates who came from internships. Since he did not have a degree, he was paid less than his colleagues, even though his work was better. Christopher's products received large orders for the company and others were asked to make their products look like his. Facing this discrimination, he quit his job and began his own workshop. Since then Christopher has been self employed and has been able to support his family by the art work he does.
Christopher is a father of three, two girls and one son. He started selling his products in the local markets where he is accommodated by a friend at the stall. One day while he was selling at the market, a lady came told him she wanted to buy everything in his stall. He thought it was a joke. However, the woman turned out to be the wife of a wealthy government official from another country. He sold his entire stock in one day!
The inspiration for Christopher's pieces comes from everyday life. For a piece titled "African Faces" he says he got the idea from seeing all kinds of faces in the marketplaces. Christopher is a truly gifted artisan. A sign on the wall of his workshop is a testimony of his life: "God can bless you from nothing to something."
fruitful talent center
Beatrice, Jane and Grandma “Sho Sho” founded Fruitful Talent Center in 2008. Currently, there are 25 children and 7 women supported through this project. The center was started because the women saw so many orphans after the 2007 post election violence in Nairobi. Many children were left to be the head of their families. The women also knew of many women who supported their families by working, but had to leave their children by themselves at home. Beatrice said, “Don’t leave a child behind, we have a day care here so we can look after their children.”
In their community, Beatrice, Jane and Grandma Sho Sho found fifteen other women to support their center. Grandma Sho Sho is the head beadwork teacher; Beatrice and Jane are the project managers. They also help employ the women in need through teaching the handicraft of making accessories. They design various accessories and go to the market to sell the products made by the women that work at the center. Most of their support comes through selling beads.
“Fruitful” stands for the expansion of love to the entire community. The women desire to see children and youth grow through the center. They also desire to see the lives of women changed so they can be an example to others outside the center. The center offers dance and art classes to keep the children from being idle and getting into trouble within the slum.
As artisans, the competition in the marketplace is a constant challenge. Also, they cannot sell their products at market everyday because they take care of the children and youth at the center. This adds pressure to their budget; only making enough to get by in feeding the children. They hope to increase their sales so they can buy more material for jewelry making, clothes for the children, sanitary pads for girls and save money for their future building project.
Beatrice and Jane dream of seeing Fruitful expand physically in its building structure. They wish to accommodate as many children and youth as they can. Also, they desire to see the center as not only as a place of refuge, but also an educational center with classrooms and space available for creative arts.
HAKUNA MATATA ARTS
Hakuna Matata Arts is a small workshop located in Nairobi. Started by George, they deal with horn and metal products, which includes making candle holders, pen holders, metal animals, and metal instruments. George currently has two staff working with him.
George is married and is a father of four, three sons and a daughter. He began his business in 1997. George finished primary school and joined high school but was not able to finish due to lack of school fees. He was hired as a casual laborer where he worked for two years before moving to Nairobi. While in the city, he got hired at a company that made copper gift items. He worked there for a while but quit to start his own business. He wanted to start his own company and be able to design products himself. With the knowledge he gained from working at the copper gift shop, he began making earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
He made jewelry for a while but realized the market was flooded with the same product as his, so he changed his trade into making products from cowhorn. This business turned out to work well for him. In 2011, he started incorporating metal into his art, which became a blending of horns and metal. Since he began this business, he has been able to train many people who have also began their own businesses.
The challenges he currently faces include not having a shop where he can sell his products all week and having to depend on the markets. Another issue is when there is no market for his products, he does not make any sales.
George prays and hopes that one day he will be able to own a shop that will be open throughout the week and at a prime place so that he does not only have to depend on the market days.
An update from the field...
Christina was able to visit Hakuna Matata Arts in January 2014, below are some reflections from the field:
"They have the electricity running through the walls of the workshop so they can weld. They have a jumper cable attached to 2 oil barrels and the electricity is attached to the cable - via the wall. Then they take their tools and spark them on the live barrels - it's crazy and scary, but seriously amazing. While we were there hearing about the work they were doing, we are sitting in the middle of a 10x10 room, the walls are painted--from graffiti-like tagging, to an encouraging statement, paintbrush strokes, the name of Jesus, "rules to live by", and by the door: Christina, Cathy, Caroline, Kiki is painted on the wall. He's ready to remember us and pray for us - it's humbling. We are sitting in this room and creativity is just oozing out. You can feel the talent. I was sitting there thinking, "this is all so beautiful and creative and amazing, yet its all stacked in here, almost thrown away as trash. Not sure if anybody would like it, not sure if it's worth anything, not sure if they are special enough to create something people would LOVE." There is such a massive amount of beauty in the midst of a slum, the world of gray and brown, dirt and sheet metal. Yet their immense talent and hard work is so impressive. But you have to go through the dirt, the dust, and the unknown to sit in a tiny room, sweating like crazy, but filled with such beauty. All you have to do is open your eyes and see things in it's rawest form. We were spectators more then anything else and it's a blessing to know we have started a relationship with George, Charles, and Joseph. They are young, inquisitive, talented guys. We are here to show them God's love and be blessed by the talent He has given them."
Helen's Paper Beads
One artisan who shows up to the markets every week, usually selling by herself, is a Christian mother and business woman, Helinah. Most people call her Helen. She sells beaded accessories and keychains made out of a variety of colored beads, magazine beads and wire. She also uses her beading technique on leather sandals. Helen has two daughters and has been making handicrafts for six years. She has worked with Heavenly Treasures for one and a half years.
Helen was first introduced to beading and handicraft making through a mentor. She then improved her craft over time by teaching herself new techniques. She buys paper magazine beads to make her accessories from women living with HIV in the Kibera slums. It is important to Helen to support these women so they may also have enough income to support their own families.
Helen keeps a consistent weekly schedule of attending every market. She is always smiling and waiting patiently at her stall for customers. She treats people with kindness and is very respected in the marketplaces. One artisan calls her “mama of sales” because she is good at marketing her products, looking out for fellow artisans and drawing in customers. Despite facing the challenges of market competition and bartering from customers, Helen maintains her positive attitude and keeps up with unique and fashionable designs. Recently her jewelry was featured by a wholesaler of Heavenly Treasures.
In the future Helen would like to see her business expand. She wants to keep her family supported through her work. As a mother, she desires to see her children pursue their dreams and finish school. Her older daughter loves to draw and has a passion for art. Helen’s youngest enjoys making jewelry just like her mom.
JAMKIA ART & CRAFT
"Jamkia" stands for the name of its founder, Jane. She has been working with Heavenly Treasures for 2 years. Jane first met Christina in the marketplace and has sold beaded bowls, purses and other decor to Heavenly Treasures since then. The unique thing about Jane’s beading is her use of colors in her work. For example, Jane designed a candle holder to look like the colors of the sunset.
Since primary school, Jane has learned the Masai trade of beading and making handicrafts. She makes lampshades, candles, bowls, glass jar covers, placemats, purses and other bags. Jane's creativity is evident, and oftentimes her designs are copied by other artisans in the marketplace.
Jane is a mother of 4 children, all of who are in school. Her family is very important to her and she has great dreams to see her children succeed in life. Her eldest born wants to become an engineer; Jane says he is on his way to achieving his dream because he is very smart and successful in his school. She would like to see all her children get a degree and her work supports them by paying their school fees. One day Jane would like like to see her products sold in exhibitions.
The name “Jukeo” comes from an abbreviation of the name of its founder, Julius. He has been making soapstone for 16 years and has been partnering with Heavenly Treasures for more than five years.
Julius learned how to make soapstone while in South Western, Kenya. While in school he loved art and wished the school had art classes. After finishing school, Julius grew more interested in art and started attending marketplaces to learn more about making soapstone. He would show up at the market, ask to join in the work and begin making his own designs and learning from artisans.
His work supports his family, a wife and three children, plus the families of his workers. Wycliffe, Isabel and Rachel have worked with Julius for over 6 years. His desire is to take on more workers, especially when there are big orders to finish. Julius shares many times working on orders is just work. However, when making his order for Heavenly Treasures he knows it is an act of love. He appreciates the relationship we share, and knows that every item made is made with love.
Most of the soapstone in Kenya comes from the town of Kisii in Western Kenya. Large stones of rock are mined from massive soapstone quarries. Working in the quarries is very dangerous work. The surfaces are slippery and large pieces of rock can break free and fall. Once mined, the stones are taken to workshops to be carved into beautiful pieces of art. Each item is carved freehand using an ax. It is then sanded down and washed to make smooth. The soapstone is then painted and additional fine detail is carved. Finally, each piece is polished before it is ready to be sold!
Pamoja Youth Crafts
Pamoja Youth Crafts is a accessories making project based in Nairobi. Heavenly Treasures started working with this project in 2013. "Pamoja" in Swahili means "Together in Unity." The project was started by Seka, a young handicraft designer who has a very creative mind and a good sense of business.
Seka is the fourth of five siblings. He grew up in the coastal regions of Kenya, and moved to Nairobi after completing primary school. While in Nairobi, Seka completed high school, but could not go to college due to lack of school fees. While at home and with no way out he decided to try making accessories. Growing up he watched his mother make handicrafts. He would go with her to the market and assist in selling the products. He grew interested in making handicrafts, so he began his own designs. In 2006, Seka met John and Milton from Zakale Creations. He would see their designs in the marketplace and would try to create his own. They taught him about making accessories and how to develop his skills in handicraft design.
Since then, Seka has been making his own jewelry and selling to different people. He attends most of the Maasai markets in Nairobi. Pamoja Youth Crafts employs seven people when there are larger orders. Seka's house doubles as both a house and his workshop. He has been able to pay college school fees for himself and completed a two-year diploma in sales and marketing.
In Swahili, “Utamaduni” means “culture.” This business was started 10 years ago by Simon and is now managed by his son, Gabriel. For Gabriel, the cultural heritage in Kenya has inspired his artwork. The beads, metal and styles are influenced from primitive art. Gabriel says he "modernizes his pieces so the modern person can admire it and wear it." He cares for his customers. He states, “we use original, raw materials so customers are not affected by them. Being honest is what is most important to us.”
Gabriel began learning about making accessories while in high school. His father introduced him to the art and began to teach him how to make accessories. He enjoys working with his dad. Gabriel does the marketing and sells in the marketplaces, while Simon works at the workshop making more product. The design of their pieces come from thinking of new ways to create designs as well as influences from their culture. As marketplace competition is often tough, Utamaduni Crafts create complicated designs so their work cannot be copied.
Gabriel supports his family, suppliers, his workers and their families. All are dependent and relying on Gabriel for support. His goal is to see his business expand into a gallery and reach people all around the world. He also wants to hire more people to work and continue to expand his designs.