The high temperatures of about 33 degrees celsius does not seem to deter at least 100 women intricately working with colourful beads, reeds and gunny bags at the Action Africa Help International (AAH-I)-managed business centre in Kalobeyei refugee settlement, Turkana County. There are a few children sitting and playing close to their mothers.
These women, refugees and from the host community, are weaving baskets and doing beadwork to earn a living. To date there are 10 groups of 10 women each actively participating in the project, Safe from the Start. They include the host community and refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Somalia. The Kenya programme of AAH-I has chosen handicrafts as a key industry to scale, giving these women and girls at risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) an opportunity to make a living from their skills and break the cycle of violence that is worsened by poverty.
64-year-old Ndikuriyo Theodore, a refugee from Burundi now living at the Kalobeyei refugee settlement is one of these women. “My husband and I were comfortable and raising our children when the first conflict broke out in 1993. We went to Uganda but returned to our village in Kitundo when the situation improved. We settled and were living well and even building a home in the capital city Bujumbura when the war broke out a second time in 2016. But it was really bad this second time. We tried to escape but unfortunately, I watched my husband being killed at the border of Uganda and Burundi. I escaped into Uganda and settled in Kampala while my children went to Tanzania. In Kampala, with other refugees, we got a bus that brought us here in 2016.
“Being a part of this handicraft project is helping me to make an income and not completely depend on food rations. But is also an opportunity for social interaction with other women who have experiences similar to mine. The social setting at the refugee settlement can get very lonely. When we come here we encourage each other as we work. My smile is slowly coming back,” she says.
To start off the project, AAH Kenya partnered with Bawa Hope to conduct a skills assessment of the women’s skills.
“Women between 18 and 59 years are selected based on prior training and skill in tailoring, registration with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, women not already benefitting from another income generating activity (to ensure a fair targeting system and maximize the opportunities for those who are vulnerable), and a demonstrated interest and self-motivation to work in group,” says Bawa Hope Representative Andrew Mutisya. “We challenge their design process and work with them to strengthen quality and consistency. Because our market for these products is in Europe, we expose them to global trends, seasons and colours and train them to craft items for home décor, lighting, storage and jewelry.”
“When refugees flee their homes, they lose their source of livelihoods but carry with them traditional skills and craftmanship, most of them having learnt the skills from childhood. We are uplifting the women by improving these skills and linking them to local and global markets,” says AAH Kenya Country Programme Manager Dr Kamau Githaiga.
The handicrafts project is made possible with funding support from UNHCR.