Helena Asinyen, a resident of Nakadukui – Turkana Central Sub-county, listened keenly to the presenter even when her hands were busy beading the wide yellow plastic that when finished would be an Aruba (a woman’s beaded belt).

The mother of five had joined the rest of the Kicheda Group of 35 beaders in a baraza for Ushanga Initiative, a program under the Department of Culture in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Natural Resources. The initiative, done in collaboration with the National Government, seeks to empower women to take up beadwork as a business venture in order to enrich their lives.

“In the village, I am best known for my Aruba and Ng’ikingeta [beaded headband] so I get orders. I can make three in a month,” says Helena, who took up beadwork in four years ago.

Ushanga Initiative is looking to support women like Helena, a pastoral woman, to earn a living from their beadwork and not to wear them as just an adornment.  The other counties targeted are West Pokot, Baringo, Marsabit, Samburu, Narok and Kajiado as they too traditionally deal with beads.

During this sensitization exercise in Turkana Central Sub-county, the Department of Culture was able to reach over 100 women in both Kerio and Nakadukui; in the last centre there were some men beaders too. At the baraza, they too were busy beading bracelets and ornaments to decorate the Ng’ateloi (men’s headgear), and carving Aburo (walking stick that would later be beaded).

“Awareness and skills acquired in Ushanga Initiative makes one to become a small scale entrepreneur thus able to earn a living,” said Titus Lokorikeje, Deputy Director Policy, Quality and Research in the Culture Department, at Kerio, “However the willingness of the community and participants to embrace the initiative is more paramount.”

Citing one of their own in Kerio – Joyce Apus who had traveled around Kenya and East Africa showcasing and selling her beaded products and with the support of the county government has been continuously been trained has improved her skills, innovation and value addition. However, Lemmy Ejorewoia – Chief Administrator in the Culture Department – told the women that beadwork called for commitment and patience.

“You [the Nakadukui community] are already doing well, all you need is to advance skills and knowledge,” he said. “The best products will be taken to Biashara Centre where the market is ready.”

He assured them that the county government would soon be training them to use machines; that will enhance their designs, produce better finished products and work faster and efficiently.

He urged them to have their final products to be neat, have reasonable selling points and use local natural materials like leather instead of plastic.

In March 2019, the department trained 20 women for 10 days as trainers of trainers (ToTs) who they will rely on to pass on their learnt beading skills to the rest of the women in county. Then in April 2019, over 100 women were sensitized in Loaren’gak and Kaikor, Turkana North Sub-county.

Upon delivery of her latest belt, Helena will be paid Sh2,000 for the order.