Kenyan Girl Draws a Bead on a Better Life

By Donna Atola, Kenya Field Communications Specialist

Child Champions help a girl identify her talent in beadwork at the Hope Center skills training workshop, and now she earns income to help her family living in poverty.

A Child Champion helps Debora learn to bead.

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in 2020, all Hope Centers in Kenya had to close their doors.

This meant that kids living in poverty could no longer come to the Hope Center to attend the program and be encouraged by their Child Champions.

To reach out to the kids, Child Champions in Kenya conducted home-based programming, where they would visit the children at home and bring them reading materials.

They came up with a schedule that helped ensure that they were building kids’ reading skills and also helping them with skills training.

At Emarti Hope Center in Kajiado, Kenya, Child Champions organized the children into small groups so they could be trained in a variety of skills that they were interested in.

Debora was among the kids who joined the beadwork class. She was in grade two when she told Shadrack, her Child Champion, that she was interested in learning how to make jewelry from beads.

Debora works on her beading skills.

Little Debora was familiar with the art because her mother Emily makes and sells beaded art to earn an income.

“My mother makes jewelry at home, and I loved how beautiful the ornaments would become,” Deborah says. “So I wanted to learn it, but she said I was still too young and that she would teach me when I am older.”

Emily learned the skill when she was about 10, and her hope was that she would teach Deborah, her youngest daughter, when she, too, was around that age.

However, none of Debora’s siblings had shown interest in beading. So Emily was a little hesitant to allow her daughter to learn the art using her valuable materials, fearing they would go to waste, which was a loss she was not ready to risk.

“I wanted to take some time and see if she was serious about learning the skill. I was afraid that the beads and strings that I purchase for the work would go to waste, yet I depended on that for my family to survive,” she recalls.

Learning to Bead While ‘Resting’

Growing up, Emily says that beading was a hobby that most girls indulged in traditionally. She learned the skill by observing her grandmother and her mother. But it was purely for fun, and never did she ever think the skill would earn her an income.

Some of the beadwork done by Debora.

“Traditionally, men are the ones who were allowed to leave the homesteads and spend the day away from home. But for the women and girls, we had to do chores at home like cleaning, fetching water, fetching firewood, taking care of babies, and milking the cows and goats,” Emily explains. “So after all the chores are done, we would sit down to rest.”

Emily says that “rest” in their community was thought of differently when she was young.

“Unlike right now where rest is thought of as laying down or sitting around while doing nothing, during our days that would be thought of as idleness,” says Emily. “So to pass time while resting, women would sit under trees and bead as they talked. It is from there that I learned how to bead.”

They beaded necklaces, anklets, bracelets, belts, and shoes for both men and women.

As time went by, Emily got married to David, and together they had eight children. Debora is the youngest of the eight.

Debora with her parents, Emily and David.

David works as a watchman in a neighboring school where he earns the equivalent of $30 monthly. In addition to beading, Emily also depends on selling milk from their animals to earn extra income.

At the Hope Center, Deborah had been quietly learning beading for months. One day she went home and told her mother that she had learned the skill and was willing to perfect the art if her mom allowed her to help in beading her customers’ jewelry.

Emily says she allowed her daughter to try to make some bracelets because she was persistent in learning the skill and wouldn’t give up until she was given a chance.

Keeping an Eye on Latest Trends

Now 12, Debora has mastered the skill she loves and helps her mother create jewelry, which they sell to supplement their family’s income.

“She is so good at making different designs of necklaces, and I am happy that as she pursues her education, she also has an extra skill,” Emily says proudly.

“Because no one knows what the future holds, but for someone like Debora, she is preparing well for it. I can only wish her the best.”

Working on a beading project.

Currently, Emily depends on orders from her clients in their village as well as referrals. Most of the jewelry she makes is worn at happy ceremonies in the community like weddings, church services, or celebrations.

To keep her clients satisfied, Emily and her daughter have to watch for the latest jewelry designs.

“The designs have evolved over time. We have new ones each day, so we have to learn the skills from the internet so that we don’t look old-fashioned,” Emily says.

The income from selling jewelry, however, is not consistent. There are months they receive many orders from clients, but they also go months without a single order. Most of their jewelry ranges in price from $5 to $30.

From the income she earns in good months, Emily is able to save for her daughter’s school fees and even buy food for her family.

Dad Credits Hope Center With Daughter’s Success

In addition to beading during her free time, Debora also enjoys playing football with her friends and reading. Her favorite subject in school is social studies because she loves reading about different cultures around the world.

Debora hopes to become a journalist when she grows up.

Deborah hopes to become a journalist when she grows up.

Her father David says, “I’m happy that the Hope Center was able to help my daughter know her dreams and even know her talent.

“She is so talented at beadwork, and I wonder if this would have been the same if she was not registered into the program.”

“Life is tough,” he adds. “And we as parents are so deeply focused on finding jobs that we miss out on helping our kids identify their talents.

“But we’re blessed with Child Champions who help us know how best to support our kids. It takes a whole village to bring out the best in a child, and the Champions do it so seamlessly.”

David’s hope for his daughter is that Deborah succeeds in life and becomes the first in his family to complete school.

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