For many people, the elaborate beadwork made by Maasai women may seem nothing more than a colorful decoration that enlivens ceremonies and dancing. But for the Maasai Mamas working with Basecamp Maasai Brand (BMB), these beads represent their deep devotion to creating a better future for themselves, their children, families and their communities.
For more than 18 years Basecamp Explorer approach to tourism has been encapsulated in the concept of- “Changing lives through tourism.” Rather than focusing on dispensing aid to the surrounding community, we chose to work alongside the people living in Masai Mara establishing programs that enable the locals to finally have their own source of income.
Basecamp Explorer identified a strong need for the preservation of the local Maasai culture and for women empowerment. For this reason, we established the Masai Brand Project. Basecamp Masai Brand is a community-based handicraft business that benefits 118 Maasai women who produce artisan goods made from sustainable resources.
Since we started working with the Maasai women an immediate impact was felt within the community. Today, these women have a source of financial independence, enabling them to feed their families as well as afford their children’s school fees, hopefully cutting the cycle of poverty and illiteracy within their families and communities.
Since Basecamp Maasai Brand was started in 2003, it has continued to dedicate its effort of empowering women in Maasai Mara. Following Maasai traditions, a woman has no opportunity to own anything. Women are meant to give birth and take care of their husbands and livestock. But Basecamp Masai Brand presented a life changing opportunity to many women. It provides work opportunities for Maasai women without adversely impacting on their Maasai culture.
Over the last 13 years, the women have been able to substantiate their income and achieve economic independence. They have built strong relationships with each other, learned about wealth creation, and have basic education on how to improve their standards of living.
It has been an intriguing journey to see the project grow in such leaps and bounds! Despite the few hurdles the women have had to face from when the project started.
One of the projects, beneficiaries is Noolamala Taek. Noolmala is one of the women who produces for Basecamp Maasai Brand. She is quick to point out that she enjoys her work. She proudly shares her achievement from making the beaded products for Basecamp Maasai Brand over the years.
“This project has been a blessing for me and my family. Since I started working at the workshop I have managed to move from a mud-walled home with thatched roof to a more modern house complete with iron sheet roofing. I have also managed to pay school fees and buy uniforms for my 2 daughters.”
She recalls how ten years prior to the start of BMB she had to survive on selling 3 liters of milk every day.
“I sold each liter at 25 shillings making a total of 75 shillings at the end of the milk sale every day.”
According to Noolmala her income solely depended on the good rainy days because during drought season the cow’s milk production became so low. They had to rely on seasonal tourists to buy their ornaments to sustain their livelihoods. This was hard to come by.
All women in the group share the same sentiments about their economic growth in the tough, traditional Maasai community. They have also managed to spend their earning in purchasing livestock, build more functional homes, and most especially educate their children.
The program now proudly employs over 118 Masai Mamas working under the guidance of Jemimah and Nancy, who are the project coordinators. The products the Mamas design are all handmade, an ancient skill that is inherited from mother to daughter. They create a wide range of items from beaded bracelets, belts, pencils cases, necklaces, laptop bags, wallets among others.
Most of the items they make are made out of recycled materials. In deliberate measures to minimize the negative impact on the environment, Basecamp Masai Mara allows the Mamas to pick the items they need for their beaded products from the recycling program based at the camp. They use recycled and sustainable materials such as used tins, plastics, wood, local leather and glass beads to make their items.
Basecamp Maasai Brand products are enlisted under fair trade, which ensures that the mamas receive 75% of the sales price of the product. The remaining 25% is used to cover management costs and to buy materials need for the products. The women also have an active role in the process of pricing, which takes into consideration the cultural significance of the product being sold.
As a support measure, Basecamp Explorer hosts Basecamp Masai Brand workshop where the Mamas carry out their beading work. The artifacts produced by the women are thereafter sold at Basecamp Explorer Camps gift shops to maximize their sales opportunities by targeting guests visiting the camp. Basecamp Explorer also provides the women with training opportunities. While training, the women learn new beading techniques alongside basic business skills and financial topics like saving and diversifying their income, to bolster both BMB and individual earnings.
Over the last 13 years, the mamas have managed to make and sell outstanding quality traditional beaded products in the global market. At the close of 2016, their sales had increased to 6 million Kenya Shillings which is a great achievement!
Looking forward to the future, Basecamp Maasai Brand will soon be renovating their workshop to make it a more comfortable place for the women to work from. The workshop facelift will create a working environment that will be more appealing to meet guests, buyers, and accommodate the women artisans.
As we aim to boost the women earnings a website and web-shop with a product catalog are being developed to help sell the ladies products in the global market.
Our Mamas will also receive personalized, hands-on training to refine their skills and produce even better products, manage personal incomes, and improve their living standards as well as that of their community.
You can make your purchase of these beautiful beaded products by placing orders to firstname.lastname@example.org. Choose your preferred design, color, and size to get a special and unique item. You can also make your purchase directly when visiting our BMB workshop and gift shops at Basecamp Masai Mara and Eagle View in Masai Mara.