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Weaving their way out of poverty

After years of struggling to make ends meet, a Turkana women’s group has devised a way of generating income

Harriet James @harriet86jim

Beatrice Akiru  sits down to start her work as her child plays with a ball beside her in a large multipurpose hall. Most women congregate to weave and sell their products. Customers, both local and international, come here to purchase one or two items.

Weaving has improved the lives of these Turkana women, who have suffered largely because of their nomadic lifestyle.

In this community, girls and women perform every domestic chore including walking long distances to get water- a scarce resource in the area.  Worse, they are unable to turn to farming as nothing can grow on their land amd they lack farming skills.

“There was nothing that could help us. You go to the farms but don’t know how to plant. We have been nomads all our lives. That’s when I feel like God gave us this talent to earn a living because there is no other way to make it in life in this dry land,” says Akiru.

Her journey into weaving began 28 years ago when she was in high school. It was a hobby at first but later on, she began to earn some bit of cash, which she used to start a business. In 1991, together with her friends, they formed the Lodwar Basket Market Self-Help Group to assist women earn a living.

One of the group members weaving a basket. Photo/ HARRIET JAMES

“We didn’t get any work; we kept borrowing money as washing people clothes was not profitable.

That’s why we decided to pick the doum palms and started weaving,” she narrates, adding that her husband, who has been her greatest support, assisted her get a loan from the bank to expand her business.

There are currently 30 women in the group. They started their business in Kalokol town before moving to Lodwar. The group has expanded to Kitale, Eldoret, Marsabit, Loyangalani, Laisamis, and Kakuma.

“Each woman is paid cash for the baskets she makes. We send the baskets by truck to Nairobi, where they are marketed. A bag cost between Sh300 to Sh1,500. In just one day, one can earn Sh5,000,” she says.

They source the tools of trade — the duom palms, stone and bark from which they make the dyes — from the desert. The process of weaving a basket involves coming up with creative designs that will impress clients.

The women now bring their items to be sold in the market. The group also travels from village to village to train other women, granting them a lot of satisfaction and status. Consequently, they have become role models for the village girls, assisting them to dream of a future that is not all house chores and drudgery.

“Training takes three months and once they learn, they are adopted into our family and start their business. A laundry basket might take three months to finish while a smaller basket would take a week to finish. It just depends on a person’s speed,” says Akiru.

With the proceeds from their weaving, the women have been able to take their children to school, own land and build their own homes and rental houses.

“If it wasn’t assisting us, we wouldn’t have been here doing this. In the past, we used to see politicians as our saviours and would run to them to educate our children, but sadly they never did. However, with weaving, things have changed and we are now a happy lot. Our kids are happy with what we are doing,” she concludes.

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