Want to bring something home from your overlanding adventures while making a difference? These community projects are worth a detour for their unique handmade products. By Sam Pinnell
In our eight months overlanding through Africa, we encountered a number of initiatives supporting local people. Three of them really stood out. These projects are well worth the time to stop and visit – not only because they uplift communities, but for the artful products they create. Each of these community projects offers local women the chance to learn skills, build a career and provide an income for their families.
If you’ve travelled anywhere in Africa, you’ve probably seen children of all ages on the side of the road, hands held out for sweets or money. As the privileged overlanders that most of us are, our instinct is often to give. But rather than encouraging begging, we should instead support sustainable social development. Why not start by visiting these initiatives?
Bikes, baskets and beautiful fabrics
In Buhoma, Uganda, we visited the Ride 4 a Woman project, where we met Evelyn Habasa. She started the project in 2009 to provide employment and income to the women in her community. It began with just eight bicycles which they rented out to tourists. This led to a need to maintain the bikes and the women went on mechanics courses so they could look after the bicycles.
The project crept along, with the women also selling woven baskets. Then, in 2012, an Australian visitor introduced Evelyn to quilting. She returned the following year and taught Evelyn and a few of the ladies to sew. This project now supports almost 300 women from 11 villages who work at or with the centre. Some have started their own small businesses making clothing and school uniforms, others work at the centre, which markets and sells their products. They now also run a coffee shop and restaurant, as well as having 10 beautifully furnished rooms that they let to visitors. And yes, they still hire out bicycles for visitors wanting to mountain bike in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
It’s an absolutely inspiring project. The woven baskets and handmade items are beautiful works of art. The overwhelming pride that the women have in their work is palpable. I only wish I could have filled the car with their exquisite quilts and cushions…
Clay beads from Mount Kenya
In Nairobi, Kenya, we took the opportunity to visit Kazuri Beads. This community initiative was started in 1975 when Lady Susan Wood taught two ladies to make beads. Their raw material? Clay brought in from Mount Kenya.
Supporting single mothers in the area, Kazuri takes its name from the Swahili word meaning small and beautiful. The initiative now employs 340 women and their products are exported around the world. We were given a tour of the factory, seeing how the clay from Mount Kenya is used, and each bead is made by hand. Each woman is trained to be a specialist in her area, whether it is the shaping, painting, glazing or stringing of the beads. The ladies’ eyes lit up as we chatted to them. They are passionate about what they do and that passion is evident in the beauty of their final products.
Visit www.kazuri.com to learn more.
Knitted bears and zebras
At Kembu Farm, just outside Nakuru in Kenya, we met Paddy Nightingale, who started the Kenana Knitters. This community project employs local women who knit toys and clothing from 100% natural homespun wool. The women can work from home or come into the office to work on their projects once they have finished their chores at home.
There is much laughter and chatter among the busy clicking of the knitting needles. It’s a happy work environment and the love the ladies put into their animals is evident. Each animal has its own character – my big dilemma was choosing which one to take home with me!
Being a responsible overlander
When travelling to far-flung places, it’s worth remembering that we are guests in local communities. Our visits should ideally leave our hosts better off than before. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Visit and support community projects that empower locals and build their sense of self-worth. By buying keepsakes you can support an entire family.
2. Shop at the market and eat at local restaurants rather than global franchises, so you can contribute directly to the local economy.
3. Be frugal with your use of natural resources like water and wood. Use refillable water bottles and carry reusable shopping bags to limit your plastic footprint.
Also read: 4x4outfar – overlanding with a mission