Culture & Entertainment

Me to We Artisans: Stories from a Kenyan Maasai Mama

By: Simone Castello
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

Me to We Artisans: Stories from a Kenyan Maasai Mama

By: Simone Castello

Today I had the lovely pleasure of meeting a beautiful Kenyan Maasai lady at a Me to We event, here in Toronto. "Mama Leah" was at the Me to We store to meet a few guests and to chat about her role in creating beautiful handcrafted jewellery and accessories for the Me to We Artisans program. Maasai Mama Leah Founded in 2010, by Roxanne Joyal, Me to We Artisans is a line of original accessories handcrafted by artisan mamas in Free the Children developing communities in Kenya. Beadwork is a traditional component of Maasai communal life, but a lot of these women also try to make a living by selling their wares at the market. Me to We offers these Maasai mamas an opportunity to create what they already know and do, but share their works with a global market. Mama Leah (pictured above), taught me to make a simple Rafiki bracelet this morning. Rafiki means 'friend' in Swahili, making these some of the most popular bracelets in the line. Interesting fact? What took me 45 minutes to do (see below) would normally take her 10. "Those? We make about 35 of those bracelets a day," she says. She's laughing at me, and it's cute. "The more professional beaders would probably go up to 50." Rafiki Bracelet I enjoyed my chat with Mama Leah, who shared candid stories about how her work with Me to We has now allowed her to send all her children to school, including her young daughter. "She goes to school now, and she's really enjoying it," Mama Leah said. "It's important to me because I never went to school, so this makes me very happy." The program now employs approximately 1,200 Kenyan mamas, making up 34 independent beading groups that span 14 communities. This is a huge leap forward in terms of progress because it allows these women to be integral members of their households, contributing to their family income. Me to We Earrings The beautiful part of this program is the transparency for people who purchase the accessories. All products are part of Me to We's Track Your Impact program. What this means is that each product comes with a unique eight-digit code that consumers can enter online to track exactly where their money (or gift) has been spent. Products range from $4.99 to $299.99 CAD, and include everything from bracelets and earrings to cufflinks and wallets. And as for Mama Leah? She's so proud of the work she does with the program -- and it shows. "For me, I feel valued. All the women feel valued. This has changed our lives." And as for me? I'm just grateful I met her. MetoWe Check out the winners from Canadian Living's 10th Me to We awards.
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Me to We Artisans: Stories from a Kenyan Maasai Mama

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