Basket-making is a craft that has been passed down for generations in the Kamba tribe, and it is a favorite pastime for Nyumbani Village’s grandmothers or susus as they are called in the Kamba language. In addition, it is an income generating activity for the women. By selling their baskets to local markets, Nyumbani volunteers, and international organizations, the grandmothers make a small income, which some use to buy items for their homes or visit their relatives. The beautiful baskets have become a popular souvenir for many visitors and volunteers in Nyumbani Village, a perfect way to take a bit of Nyumbani home with them. These baskets can serve many purposes like decoration or storage. Some volunteers have even attempted to learn from the grandmothers how to make one!
The process of making a basket is a time-intensive process full of intricacy and labor:
First, grandmothers harvest sisal and extract a strong fiber hidden inside the leaves. They roll and twist the fibers into strands, much like a stiff string. These sisal strands are the foundation of the basket.
Next, grandmothers plan the size and design of their basket. The design can vary in color, shape, pattern and stiffness. After carefully choosing colors, they begin weaving sisal and colored yarn together. Depending on the size and design, it can take one day to more than a week. Most grandmothers in the Village are always carrying around an in-process basket, weaving while they walk or sit.
Throughout the years, members on Kenya Educational Service Trips (KEST), through the Tuko Pamoja subsidiary, have been working alongside the grandmothers to improve the baskets’ quality. KEST is a travel company, founded by good friend of Nyumbani, Lloydie Zaiser, which includes Nyumbani in their travel itineraries and raises funds for each Nyumbani program based on the needs identified by the program directors. KEST funded and helped the grandmothers start their sisal garden in the Village.
Tuko Pamoja, a subsidiary of KEST, has worked 4 long years with the grandmothers on basket designs, stability and new product ideas. They organize workshops on coordinating colors, sourcing materials, and maintaining uniform shape. Since running these workshops, the quality and marketability of the baskets have improved significantly. The grandmothers are able to sell more baskets to local and international customers, many purchases facilitated through Tuko Pamoja events in the USA. The work of Tuko Pamoja has greatly improved the basket market of Nyumbani Village and empowered the grandmothers.