empowerING disadvantaged Maasai women
The Basecamp Maasai Brand (BMB) is a community-based handicraft workshop that empowers disadvantaged Maasai women and preserves the Maasai beading tradition at the same time. The fair trade certified BMB enables Maasai women to apply their beading skills to produce and sell their handcrafted products, providing them with a reliable source of their own income. Basecamp Masai Brand was initiated by Basecamp Explorer in 2003 as part of its responsible tourism operations and community-based development programs in and around its Basecamp Masai Mara camp located next to Talek village, bordering the Masai Mara National Reserve.
The Maasai are an indigenous tribe that has been living as semi-nomadic/seasonal pastoralists for centuries. Through the modernization that comes with a globalized world, the original Maasai lifestyle has become more and more difficult to maintain. An increasing population combined with the loss of grazing lands has resulted in a reduction in cattle livestock – traditionally the core source of income and basis of existence in Maasai culture and society. Poverty rates among many Maasai are high as they struggle for livelihood opportunities in an economic system foreign to their culture.
At the same time, in Maasai culture, the women’s role is restricted to rearing children and housekeeping. Just one generation ago, less than 20 percent of Maasai women in Kenya enrolled in school. Today, even with free primary school education in Kenya since January 2003, less than 48 percent of Maasai girls enroll in primary school, while only 10 percent of girls make it to secondary school. Due to cultural barriers and wide-spread illiteracy, Maasai women typically have no possibilities to equally contribute to their family’s income and participate in today’s economic system.
Basecamp Explorer (BCE) launched the Basecamp Maasai Brand (BMB) aiming to empower Maasai women by providing them with an entrepreneurial opportunity – to leverage their existing skills and generate an income by doing so. At four to five years of age, every Maasai girl starts developing her unique beading technique. The BMB recognizes this skill and offers employment and a reliable source of income to Maasai women, all between 17 and 60 years of age, originating in regions with BCEK campsites.
With BMB being certified as a “fair trade” business, the artisans receive 55% of the agreed total production cost after material cost of their handicraft products, the rest is for salary for the Management group and tools. This amount is paid directly to the women. The women also have an active role in the process of pricing, which takes into consideration the cultural significance of the product being sold.
- Increased quality of life: BMB women significantly improve the quality of life of their families by being able to afford essential expenses, such as food, health services or school tuition for their children
- Improved gender equality: BMB contributes to gender equality among the Maasai; Maasai men acknowledge the importance of additional income and support their women in their new, entrepreneurial roles
- Preservation of Maasai culture: BMB incentivized the preservation of the traditional Maasai beading handicraft by creating a market and demand for these products, thus successfully connecting the Maasai with the economic system of today’s modern and globalized world
- Upcycling of waste materials: BMB products are high quality as well as eco-conscious – while artisans work mainly with Maasai glass beads and leather, they also use scrap metal and waste materials, e.g. a thread made from strands of recycled plastic food bags
During the first half of 2018, BMB women received training on how to improve and create beaded items of a much higher quality. With an aim to establish the Basecamp Maasai Brand as a fashion jewelry organization, BMB has diversified its product line to include more than 10 new fashion designs. Despite the demolition of the BMB Art and Craft Centre which will be replaced by a better equipped Centre at the soon to be built Enjoolata Centre, BMB has realized over Kshs 3.3 million in the
first half of 2018 with the highest sales coming from online sales. With more marketing in place, BMB will hit its projected annual target of Kshs 8.5 million.
You can directly support the BMB and the Maasai artisans by visiting their workshop at Basecamp Masai Mara and purchasing handcrafted beading products from Basecamp Explorer’s camps in Spitsbergen and Kenya. Or you can do a donation contributing to raise USD 20’000 – the funds will be used to upgrade the BMB workshop site, enabling the Maasai women to introduce more designs and widen the range of their beading products.