So, in case you’ve been wondering, no, it isn’t possible for six women to go on a trip without shopping. Yes, that does sound like a stereotype, but as the great Greek philosophers said, “Know thyself.” And when Polonius exhorted Laertes: “To thine own self be true,” he was speaking to us. To shop well is to accept a challenge, to arm ourselves, to go out to do battle in the markets, and to return with booty worth a king’s ransom. Yes, today we faced the foe, tilted at windmills and won our Dulcinea, mixed our metaphors, and shopped till we dropped.
Yes, we did enjoy our shopping experience today, but we did so knowing that the businesses we supported are about bringing disadvantaged women from many backgrounds together to create viable, lasting enterprises.
We began our day by visiting Amani ya juu where vulnerable women from many African countries come together to create beautiful textiles and textile products. They interview for a position then serve a probationary period before becoming full time members of the cooperative. Competence and integrity are essential, as this is a profit-sharing group. Over ninety women work, sing, pray, and share their lives as they produce some of the best textile products (clothing, art, decorations, toys, and accessories) that we have seen in Kenya. The unity quilt that hangs over their meeting area illustrates how many cultures can come together in peace. On another wall, a tiled mosaic kanga reads “Pamoja tunabadilishwa“ - “Together, we are transformed.” We were toured around the operations and met the women who make the products - clearly, it is a positive and uplifting place to work.
We were pleased to meet Maggie, the face of Amani ya Juu , who organized our tour and called our Sault Ste. Marie friend, Julia Clarke, to meet us. Julia is the organization’s chaplain who also serves as overseer of restaurant operations and marketing. She introduced us to her Kenyan husband, Ken, who works in audio-visual, IT and communications. The second of their two weddings was celebrated in Sault Ste. Marie and attended by Holly.
We were especially happy for this connection when we were able to enlist Ken’s help to give us a boost when our van decided to take a break.
With our credit cards still malleable from the heat of our purchases, we headed to Kazuri Beads, another cooperative which employs over three hundred women and men who produce beads and pottery. Wow! You have no idea how much work goes into making those beautiful clay beads. Kazuri exports to many countries, including Canada, so keep an eye out for their products.
Our last stop was Ocean Sole, a Kenyan social enterprise that collects and recycles old flip flops to produce unique and whimsical decorations.
Doing good and shopping - now there’s a win win. - fair trade coffee.