With a tiny needle and colorful beads, women living in nine community conservancies are helping to protect elephants and rhinos while changing lives in Northern Kenya. More than 1,020 women living in Melako, Kalama, Westgate, Sera,Naibunga, Leparua, Nasuulu, Lekuruki and Il Ngwesi community conservancies (members of the Northern Rangelands Trust, NRT) have turned their cultural practice of beading into tools of economic and social empowerment, as well as conservation.
Nabiki Lesuper is a mother of eight from Kalama Community Conservancy in Samburu County.
She was recently crowned the 2018 Star Beader for her efforts in motivating and managing her fellow beaders.
In the last two years, women of BeadWORKS have made Ksh. 11million (USD 110,000) in income from their craft, and saved Ksh. 1.5 million (USD 15,000) in a Savings and Credit Cooperative set up by NRT to their respective conservancies.
The link to conservation is a strong selling point, particularly for international markets.
In recognition of this, and the support offered to their business by their conservancies, women’s groups donate 5% of their proceeds.
In the last two years (2017 and 2018) a total of Ksh 2.5million (USD 25,000) in proceeds from women’s group annual sales have been disbursed to the community conservancies.
40% of the funds received are directed to support conservancy operations, such as fueling conservancy vehicles for increased security and wildlife patrols, and running conservancy headquarters.
The remaining 60% is used to fund local projects such as bursaries for needy students and the construction of water projects among others.
“We (women) are very happy that through our own hands, using a needle and beads, we have helped improve operations at our conservancy (Kalama). We used to brew illicit brew and burn charcoal for sell which damages the environment in order to fend for our families, educate our children and purchase livestock,” says Nabiki.
During an event in late May, two women’s groups in Melako and Kalama conservancies donated their contributions for (2017 and 2018) of Ksh. 683,653 (USD 6.837) and Ksh. 384,566 (USD 3,846) to their conservancies.
Sera Community Conservancy, which hosts a black rhino sanctuary, received Ksh.309, 955 (USD3, 099) from their women’s groups, while Westgate Conservancy was awarded Ksh.313,402 (USD 3,134), Il Ngwesi Ksh.301,366 (USD 3,014), Naibunga Ksh.280, 930 (USD 2,809), Leparua Ksh.92, 423 (USD 924) and Lekurruki Ksh.90, 520 (USD 905).
“BeadWORKS is unique since it empowers and gives opportunity to women in northern Kenya to earn income from the sale of handicrafts made from beads using their own hands, which improves their lives,” said BeadWORKS director Vishal Shah.
NRT Trading not only provides the market access but also the raw materials for the women, as well as access to a Savings and Credit Cooperative and relevant financial training. BeadWORKS women borrowed more than Ksh. 400, 000 (USD 4,000) from the kitty last year to conduct other businesses, diversifying their income.
“BeadWORKS is a business movement where women are given an opportunity to earn an income, empower themselves and take charge of their lives. They have an opportunity to participate in what happens in their landscape and can influence the decisions because they contribute both financially and in leadership,” says Beatrice Lempaira, BeadWORKS production manager.