Basket-making in Kenya’s Turkana Desert


Basket-making in Kenya’s Turkana Desert

 Turkana Desert, Kenya

In Kenya, Sister Kathleen Crowley is involved in the Women’s Development Programme of Lodwar Diocese. Basket-making has become quite an art and a source of income for many women.

“Here in Turkana, every bit of work in the home is a woman’s chore,” says Sister Kathleen. “The women are the main bread-winners, but their own basic human needs are not met. Water is very scarce and they walk long distances to get it.”

“None of the women in the programme can read or write. With their nomadic lifestyle it is difficult to address this problem. Our biggest hope is that their daughters will be allowed to go to school. Traditionally, the girl’s role is to help the mother in caring for the younger ones. The boys have preference when it comes to schooling. Having a little income of their own gives the women some status and enables them to see that their daughters could have a better life if they got a fair start.

“The basket-making has already brought some change to their lives,” says Sister Kathleen. “The doum palm is available in the desert. So are the bark and the stone from which they make the dyes they use. So there is no outlay. It is wonderful to see the creative designs they come up with – finding new designs all the time.

“These women are badly off for money for food or for treatment for their children who may be sick. They are willing to walk for two days with the baskets on their heads to bring them to us for sale. We pay each woman for the baskets she makes and she gets the cash in her hand. Then we send the baskets down country by truck to Nairobi, where they are marketed.”

Some of the women who are particularly talented have become teachers of their craft. Sister Kathleen and her team take them from village to village to train others. This gives them a lot of satisfaction and status. They also become role models for the village girls, helping them to dream of a future life that is not all house chores and drudgery.

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