“Beads don’t need grass, beads don’t need water, beads will sustain us”- these are the words that come from Lindi, an elder Maasai woman living at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Lindi has walked for miles through the dusty and often dangerous landscape of Southern Kenya to meet with us; her feet tell a story in itself, revealing the bravery and strength necessary to endure the often-harsh reality of everyday life as a Maasai.
Lindi along with 200 Maasai women have gathered to bead. Seeking refuge under the shade of an Acacia tree they bead in hope of creating a better future for their families, giving their daughters the opportunity they never had, an education.
Traditionally the Maasai have denied girls the right to an education, believing that their sole purpose is to tend to the needs of the family, but within the humble wooden walls of Esiteti Primary School blow the winds of change, in the form of young and eager Maasai girls.
These young girls are now receiving an education due to the success of the BeadMarket™ Craft Initiative, a program that helps the Maasai women of Esiteti earn a sustainable living so that they can provide for their families while supporting the local Primary School. The crafting of this traditional jewelry is not only changing the course of destiny for these young girls; preventing early marriage, circumcision, fistula, and HIV/AIDS but is also helping to sustain the ancient tradition of bead work, which the Maasai have mastered for hundreds of years. Each intricate piece plays a role in the many ceremonies and initiations present in Maasai culture, with each color bead representing an aspect of their semi-nomadic lifestyle.
With pride the women stand before us adorned head to toe in their creations, their vibrant kanga wraps blow in the ever-present dust filled wind that sweeps through the plains each afternoon. Ester, the always-jovial member of the group stands to say, “We have tasted the fruit of our labor and it is so sweet, since we have found a market for our beadwork there is now a light to us.” This light is palpable and can be seen in the smiles of these women and heard in the songs of their children.
The partnership with the non-profit organization Africa Schools of Kenya has created an international market for these women. The selling of this jewelry has now become the main source of income for the entire community of over 800 Maasai people, empowering this village to be self-sufficient while unleashing the power that lies within the women of this tribe, and in the wise words of a Maasai elder that proves this point, “When we come together as one bond we can do great things.”
For more information on how you can support the Maasai of Esiteti through hosting a BeadMarket™ please go to www.ASKenya.org.