by Naftali Mwaura, Bai Lin
NAIROBI, March 28 (Xinhua) -- When Jane Nasimiyu's friend alerted her about a job opening at a bustling handicraft outlet located on the northern edge of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, more than a decade ago, the single mother decided to give it a try.
Previously working at a flower farm in central Kenyan county of Kiambu, Nasimiyu had grown used to toiling in order to meet basic needs of her young family, and venturing into a different vocation was a strategic move.
Now an accomplished painter at Kazuri beads factory, a renowned handicraft brand nestled in the picturesque Karen suburb of Nairobi, Nasimiyu said she was proud of an occupation that was in the past underrated but has become an enduring symbol of Kenya's rich culture and heritage.
"My job at Kazuri (Swahili word for 'small and beautiful') involves making beads from clay, painting and grading them in readiness for clients who are mainly local and foreign tourists," Nasimiyu told Xinhua during a recent interview.
Founded in 1975, Kazuri beads factory has become a haven for poor single women in Nairobi and adjacent rural villages, providing them vocational skills and well-paying jobs.
Nestled in a neighborhood that is renowned for its greenery, scenic attractions and ambience, the indigenous handicraft maker employed 340 poor single mothers before the pandemic.
In 2010 when Nasimiyu joined Kazuri, its ceramic beads, jewelry and pottery had already resonated with a wide clientele base, thanks to their crisp and exotic appearance.
Soon after three months of rigorous training, Nasimiyu found herself immersed in sorting and adding fresh paint to handicraft destined for local and international markets.
She said that besides improved income at Kazuri beads factory, she has also benefitted from mentorship, training and exposure to the outside world, boosting her confidence and self-esteem.
Nasimiyu said she is on an annual renewable contract, enabling her to feed, clothe and educate her children with minimal struggle.
She said that though COVID-19 pandemic had taken a toll on the handicrafts business, there was some light at the end of the tunnel as orders gradually resume.
Her sentiments were echoed by Eunice Akoth Oyoo, a painter at Kazuri beads factory who joined the outfit in 2007 and has never regretted venturing into a vocation that has provided new lease of life to Kenya's urban poor and single women.
Prior to joining Kazuri workshop where she also received training for three months to pave way for her use of brush to paint ceramics and beads, Oyoo had a stint at a local organic food chain.
The single mother, who was born and raised in one of Nairobi's largest informal settlements, said her day job involves use of small, medium and large brushes to paint beads, enhance their beauty.
"At the beginning, I found it hard to paint beads, but gradually, I have gotten used to this job. The salary is better, I am able to pay rent, provide food, shelter, clothing and education to my three children," said Oyoo.
She said that before securing the well-paying job at Kazuri beads factory, she had struggled to pay household bills and often resorted to casual jobs like cleaning people's homes and working at construction sites to make ends meet.
Oyoo said that her workplace has earned accolades from poor single mothers from Nairobi's informal settlements thanks to provision of decent wages and free healthcare.
"So we are grateful for this job, despite the challenges triggered by the pandemic. Our hope is that tourism recovery will make our work profitable again," she said.
Since its founding more than four decades ago, Kazuri beads factory has symbolized the resilience, beauty and uniqueness of Kenya's cultural heritage, its wildlife and physical attractions.
Philip Mutunga, a supervisor at the factory, said the hand-made ceramics, beads, plates and cups made of clay are designed and painted in a manner that reflects the country's aesthetic beauty and splendor.
According to Mutunga, Kazuri has six active outlets in Kenya and export over 60 percent of its products through a network of distributors across the globe.
Training and providing jobs to single and poor mothers is in line with the Kazuri's founding motto of being at the center of transforming livelihoods in Kenya, he said. ■