Discovering BeadWORKS Kenya
Reflecting on being here in Kenya round 2, I thought I would take a moment to write a little bit about how this whole thing happened. I think I was prompted to write this because of the questions I was getting on my Instagram, but I think I actually took time to tell this story because it was my dream that I am now living. I’ve always struggled with what I want to do VS. what I should do. But why do they have to be seperate? I say, DO what you WANT. Have dreams and goals, and work your lil tush off until you reach them. You’ll get nowhere by just dreaming, but if you follow up with gumption, hard work, and commitment, life may just go your way. So here it goes!...
Fall 2016 felt stale to me. I was hungry for travel, but too busy to take time off with the busy holiday season quickly approaching. When I said travel, I didn’t mean a vacation. I wanted to have a purpose that went beyond my own exploration. It didn’t take me long to find an answer. I would argue that the greatest gift you can give is education, and for the past 3 years I had been working on a skill set that could translate to opportunity. Perhaps leathercraft was more than just my full time money-making real-life gig. Could it be an avenue I could use to save the world?
Definitely not, I know I can’t save the world, I am not a superhero. I did want to do something that was bigger than myself. So anything 5’ 3” and above.
The more I thought, the more it made sense; A beginner set of tools is not expensive, easily transported, and the craft can be pretty well explained by photos and drawings. A language barrier is inconvenient, but doesn’t matter much because hands on demonstration is a type of sign language. I knew what I wanted to do- travel by means of teaching workshops. I grew obsessed with the idea, but lost in the execution. I would find myself in the google research black hole everyday, but no realy hits.
Fast forward 2 months to Christmas Eve at my neighbors annual party. I was catching up with my parents great friend Jo, and noticed her necklace shaped as Africa. I remembered she had just spent time in Africa on a new job. We began talking about Beadworks, and Jo mentioned that they were struggling introducing leather/beaded products to their line of goods because they had no knowledge of leather-craft. You better believe I ran home from that party and began formatting a proposal and a detailed price list of tools for an intensive leather workshop class. A few days later, I was sent an itinerary with a flight that departed three weeks later.
Those three weeks flew by, busy wrapping up business for Crossbow, ordering all supplies from the price list, designing and formatting templates for the products, writing detailed instructions, I had no real time to process what was about to happen. In a blink of an eye, I was boarding my plane. I didn't know what to expect, but one thing is for certain, I could not have dreamed about what came next.
What I feared most about this trip was not being able to effectively teach the skills necessary to carry on leather craft after I departed. I doubted myself, my knowledge and my skills. I am no master of the craft by any means, and now I am going to establish a leather production shop in a foreign country to people I didn’t even know? People who I was unsure even wanted to learn the craft?
Long story short, I was welcomed into the most loving, generous, and inspiring community of people that is BeadWORKS and NRT Trading. It was here that I came to understand the company, the culture, and the true power of mankind. I laugh a bit writing that because it sounds so hokey, but I really mean it; the actual power you have as an individual to inspire, influence and change the lives of others. BeadWORKS Kenya is just one business line of NRT Trading. BeadWORKS itself employs over 1350 pastoralist women. The employment of these women helps send their children to school, and diversifies family income to encourage them to stop poaching.
Three weeks later, upon departure from Lewa, I was confident it was going to work. I saw my students heart in it. Their eagerness to learn and become leather crafters and their determination to succeed. The remainder of that year, I intermittently received photos of products, and helped the team purchase a new industrial sewing machine. It wasn’t until I returned this year that I really understood that it had worked. The production team is killing it, and the women have mastered the new beadwork. The storage room is filled with finished belts, dog collars, leashes, tassels and hat bands. There is a bit of work to do getting everyone more comfortable on this new sewing machine, but HOLY COW I am so impressed.
So here I am, writing from the office Trip 2. Production has been crazy since I have been here, prototyping new products; tote bag, ipad case, laptop case, bucket bag, crossbody and pouch for a very exciting trade show, NY NOW, that BeadWORKS will at the first weekend of February in New York City!
I am so thankful to be a part of this community. To be able to share my knowledge and passion. To be immersed in a totally different world, creating friendships and connections with people that would have never walked into my life otherwise. To hear their stories, and to tell mine. To help empower women, to help teach the hard work necessary to earn a reliable income, and to bring light to land and wildlife conservation amongst the communities.