Facing with heavy way of life, they have started to make hats, baskets and mats from reeds, and selling them to tourists. These ecology products are finally finding their place on the market, providing to these women financial independence and more of that.

“Basketry has not only offered a source of livelihood, but it has also opened doors for us in the world” By Caroline Wambui MATHIGA, Kenya, June 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sheltered by a tarpaulin from the blazing sun, a group of Kenyan women weave handfuls of dried reeds, their practiced hands turning them into exquisite baskets, mats and hats that have been sold to tourists from around the world. Their success stems not from choice, but from necessity. On hot days like this, that is easy to understand: the region around Mathiga village, which lies 200 kilometres (124 miles) northeast of the capital Nairobi, makes for poor farmland. The sun withers crops and cracks the earth. Regina Kaari, 70, is a member of the Tharaka Green Gold group, the collective of elderly entrepreneurs who started weaving baskets a decade ago. “We could barely manage to farm, yet we had to survive, eat, clothe (ourselves) and have a decent shelter,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation of their motivation. The women – all of whom are older than 60 – simply made what they could, Kaari said. They would sell the baskets locally for about 20 Kenyan shillings ($0.20) apiece, a “very low price”. It was demeaning, she said, but they had no alternative. OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS Not long afterwards a resident of the area called Catherine Kareaikwa visited the coastal town of Malindi where she saw vendors selling woven baskets to tourists for as much as 1,200 shillings. Back home, Kareaikwa found the baskets being sold in her village were identical to those in Malindi. She tracked down the elderly weavers and learned they were getting just 20 shillings per basket. So she offered them a deal: 50 baskets at 50 shillings each, which she then sold in Malindi, […]

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