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Women’s group weaves its way into reliable income

Members of Kolangei women group at work in Nandi County
Members of Kolangei women group at work in Nandi County. PHOTO | STANLEY KIMUGE | NMG 

The need to preserve a dying artistic culture and the growing demand for eco-friendly materials following the total ban on plastic carrier bags has catapulted this group of women to join hands to cash in on traditional baskets and other items.

In 2014, this group came together and registered the Kolangei women group to venture into this enterprise as a way of transforming their livelihood.

Rebecca Rotich, one of the members of the group, regrets that the current generation lacks the artistic know-how of pottery, basketry, weaving mats and making other products such as ropes and gourds made from locally available materials.

It is chilly morning at Sigot village, Mosop in Nandi County. The Enterprise meets a group of young and elderly women, busy making different types of traditional items.

The need to preserve a dying artistic culture and the growing demand for eco-friendly materials following the total ban on plastic carrier bags has catapulted this group of women to join hands to cash in on traditional baskets and other items.

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In 2014, this group came together and registered the Kolangei women group to venture into this enterprise as a way of transforming their livelihood.

Rebecca Rotich, one of the members of the group, regrets that the current generation lacks the artistic know-how of pottery, basketry, weaving mats and making other products such as ropes and gourds made from locally available materials.

“In the past, we used to buy from traders who brought these baskets from as far as Turkana and Kakamega counties, but they were expensive. But since we realised that there is demand for these traditional products, we decided to venture into this profitable business,” she notes.

Pots are moulded from clay and are used mainly as flower vases while the ropes are made from recycled manila polythene bags from greenhouses.

The group says the demand for these items has sharply gone up in the past two years. In a single day, she says, one member weaves two baskets adding up to 40 as the group has 20 members.

Ms Rotich says the prices of the baskets range between Sh500 and Sh1000, depending on their sizes.

The members usually meet twice a month to make the items. From the sale of the assorted items, they earn between Sh100,000 and Sh150,000 monthly, with the high season being between October and January due to social events.

Through this project, the group has generated income to meet their daily needs and reduce over-reliance on their spouses.

“We harvest the branches of the palm trees (locally known as Sosiot) that grow along the riverine. We then leave them to dry from four days before using them to make different products,” explains Grace Nyango, another member.

And in a bid to keep the wheel of the knowledge of this tradition art rolling, two elderly women have taken it upon themselves to pass the mantle to the young generation.

The younger women members have benefited immensely from two nonagenarians — Grace Bor (92) and Esther Belio (94) — who have been teaching them how to make the traditional items in order to save this once revered culture and conserve the environment.

Their advanced age is not a hindrance in contributing to conserving the environment and passing on such knowledge.

The duo contend that in a world that is rapidly embracing technology, the art of pottery, basketry and weaving is in danger of being swept away.

But these elderly women are determined to keep the fire burning. They mastered these skills six decades ago and have never looked back.

“I have taught many women this art. I am happy that most of them are taking up these skills to support their families,” says Ms Bor.

And with the shift to competency-based curriculum in schools that stresses the need for skill-based education, these two grandmothers clearly have something to offer.

“I would I advise the young people to learn these skills so that they don’t have to depend on government for employment opportunities. They can use these skills to employ themselves and generate income,” says Ms Belio.

Besides educating the society, their immediate family members are equally tapping into their rich fountain of knowledge.

One of the challenges encountered by this group is the lack of constant market and access to credit facility to expand their business.

“Sometimes the young people prefer trendy items but we are looking on how to tap on this niche,” says Ms Nyango.

Despite all these challenges, the group is not about to hang up their boots in their mission of keeping the forgotten tradition alive.

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