I am sitting under a large acacia tree overlooking the Maasai Mara listening to the sound of cow bells as a group of young Maasai boys pass by with their grazing herds. Overhead a flock of Crested Cranes fly by making their harmonious “All One, All One” call of unity.
In all directions as far as the eye can see, the black dots of wildebeest are interspersed with the red robes of Kenya’s Maasai people, drifting across the plains to take part in today’s meeting under the tree.
I am here to kick-start a new Maasai women’s livelihood initiative in partnership with the Travel Foundation and the local Kenyan fair trade crafts intermediary BawaHope.
About 100 Maasai women settle down under the shade of the acacia tree and we begin today’s workshop on new product design. I am amazed when the colour wheel the women excitedly paste together from torn out magazine snippets matches exactly the colours forecast to adorn supermodels on the catwalks of London, Paris and Rome next year!
When I ask why they only use bright primary coloured beads to make the jewellery they sell to tourists, the women reply in unison “Because they are our colours – we have always used them”. They would also love to design jewellery in new colours if they could only get the beads.
Through our new “Guaranteed Maasai Crafts Project” we are working hand-in-hand with Maasai women in the Mara Triangle and Suswa, jewellery producers in Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenyan designers and the eminent UK beadwork jewellery designer Marilyn Phipps, to design an inspiring new range of contemporary Maasai jewellery that will be wearable and attractive to the UK tourist market, along with the affluent Kenyan domestic market.
We will bypass exploitative brokers by using wholesalers who respect fair trade principles to get the new product range stocked in the gift shops of safari lodges, hotels and retail outlets in Mombasa and Nairobi, giving the Maasai access to new ‘fair trade’ markets and, importantly, a lifeline out of poverty.
As the day draws to a close and we make our way on foot across the African savannah back to the Maasai villages, the boys with their herds of grazing cattle catch us up and cheekily enquire “When are you coming to work with us Maasai men again – we too can make jewellery!”.
Guest Blog by Dr Cheryl Mvula, Director of the social enterprise Tribal Voice Communications