On Thursday I had the opportunity to tour a bead factory just south of Nairobi near where we're staying. The factory is called Kazuri Beads and they're a fair trade organization. They sell many beads to America through stores like 10,000 Villages. Kazuri means 'small and beautiful' in Swahili. It all started in 1975 when a British woman (Lady Susan Wood) wanted to help more single mothers to get jobs and be able to support their families. She started with two women back then but the company now employs a large workforce skilled in the manufacture of hand-made jewelry, many of them single mothers. A benefit they provide is free health care to the families of employees. Take a tour with me.
Clay is brought in from the mountains of Kenya but must be broken down and separated from the rocks.
Then it's put into machines that press it down & form it into bricks.
These bricks are taken into the factory where the women transform the clay into shapes. The clay feels like putty at this point.
Each woman has a molding tray and they make different sizes according to the orders for the day. Our guide informed us that the women go to a 3-month training where they learn to do many tasks in the factory so that they're not doing the same thing every day. They get rotated between several jobs.
These women are all molding today.
Other women poke holes through the clay to make it ready to be stringed into a necklace, bracelet or earrings. After this phase, they heat the 'beads' in a kiln to bake them and make them hard.
Next the beads are transferred to a bigger room for painting. Each woman has a bowl of beads and a design that she's assigned to paint for the day.
Then the beads are hung on racks to dry a bit.
At the end of the day, the beads are transferred from the racks into these kilns where they're baked a second time. The kilns run during the night because they get so hot; up to 1000 degrees.
In the kiln, the beads are placed between hot bricks and do not touch each other.
After cooling, the beads are sent to the jewelry-making table. This lady is putting together a necklace. Each lady has a different assignment.
Any extra beads are stored in this room until the next time they're needed. This is my friend, Juanita, who took the tour with me.
One of the most fascinating things to see in the factory was this lady. She is specialized in weaving & making beaded wall-hangings. No two creations are the same. It takes her three weeks to complete one wall hanging and the one we saw in the gift shop was being sold for $1,125.
In another part of the factory, pottery was being made. This man was transforming the clay into animal body parts that would later be formed into a completed animal.
Another man was on a wheel forming bowls.
Other pottery was made by pouring liquid clay into molds.
This lady was smoothing the new creations to perfection.
We left one shop and entered another where the pottery was being painted. This lady was putting spots on a giraffe.
Our guide showed us the oven where the pottery is heated. He was saying something important about pressure in the oven and not opening the door when I zoned out. Not the best time for zoning.
This is a before & after picture. The pottery is light before going into the ovens but it comes out glossy & vibrantly-colored.
And this is the on-site gift shop where many of Kazuri's products get sold.
The pottery section of the store.
I thank God for places like Kazuri who empower the less-fortunate and make a difference in their communities.