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Kikapu project (2008)

Kapedo basketry workshop for women to create new designs and products for improved marketing and income generation

Kikapu workshop was arranged to address one of the big problems in Kapedo, that is, lack of markets for the baskets made by women. The project was done in collaboration with KEDA (Kapedo Educational and Development Association). Eighty-two women took part and completed. It was a huge class for one teacher! Several new designs were created during the workshop. These designs bear the name BLACK FLOWER according to an unusual black flower that grows in Kapedo and all over the northern semi-deserts of Kenya. Erja-Riitta Alander, a Finnish designer volunteered to lead the workshop. Two KEDA members acted as her assistants taking responsibility of all local arrangements. Everyone did the work on a voluntary basis. The whole budget, 2600 euros covered operational costs. Funds came from individual donors, and Erja-Riitta covered part of her own costs of coming to Kenya. BLACK FLOWER products are now on sale in Nairobi. It is our hope that they also find their way to the markets elsewhere in the world. KEDA takes care of the marketing, however, within less than one month since the end of the workshop Liana assisted in selling baskets worth about 800 euros. 

BLACK FLOWER product list 2008 (pdf)

BLACK FLOWER product poster (pdf)

Kapedo village

Kapedo is a poor Turkana village in the hot semi-desert area in Kenya, six hours drive from the capital Nairobi. The village is a cluster of huts made of palm leave and soil. It has a few basic shops that sell flour, tea, sugar, kerosene, Omo, cooking fat… and not much more. The village has about 3000 inhabitants. Next to the village is an old mission station (no missionaries any more) that was started by two Finnish nurses in the 1960s. It has many good cement buildings with iron roofs and rainwater harvesting tanks. Beautiful hot water springs and waterfalls make this place very special. The water is strongly alkaline.

The environmental conditions of Kapedo are very challenging limiting the obvious livelihood options available. This semi-desert area is purely extensive livestock country. There is basically no chance of growing crops, at least by conventional methods, though a small cultivable area is located some kilometres north of the village. However, noone dares to go there now, as the hostilities between the neighbouring tribe, the Pokots, are worse than some years before. Due to hostilities, villagers do not dare to keep livestock either as it attracts raids in which people also get killed. In more peaceful times when the mission station was functioning, more goats and camels were kept. There is hunger often in Kapedo.

Bringing new ideas to a remote place

Communities in places like Kapedo often remain very much out of touch of new ideas. Baskets, mats and brooms are at the moment one of the only potential income to the people in Kapedo. Doum palms, the raw material for basketry grow naturally close to the saline rivers. Many women know the basics of basket, mat and broom making. These products have been made in the village since 1970s. Some few attempts have been made to introduce other designs and products, however, the women have stuck to very restricted number of products and designs. Many of the products still look the same as in the 1970s. This hampers marketing of the products.

KEDA-LIANA collaboration

Following a brainstorming meeting of two Liana and two KEDA (Kapedo Educational and Development Association) members in Christmas 2005, Liana has been requested to work together with the local CBO (Community Based Organisation) KEDA in finding solutions to alleviate the extreme poverty of the village. The meeting in Kampi ya Samaki came up with a problem list . 

1. Poverty -starvation/famine/hunger

2. Adverse climatic conditions -drought, poor soils 

3. Insecurity -escalating banditry, loss of lives and property 

4. Increased number of destitutes -internally displaced children, widows, widowers and the old 

5. Increased number of orphan vulnerable children 

6. Lack of fresh water and firewood 

7. Lack of market for mats/brooms and baskets 

8. Poor roads 

9. HIV/AIDS pandemic

The village has many serious problems and very little resources. Sometimes the problems are so closely related that several of them would need to be solved in one go in order to achieve impact. However, number 7 in the long list of problems 'Lack of market for mats/brooms and baskets' is a simpler one. We believe that the lack of market for these products is caused mainly by lack of design ideas on how to make attractive and interesting products that customers would like to buy. The Kikapu project, i.e. basketry workshop for women to create new designs and products for improved marketing and income generation, is the first attempt to tackle this problem.

KEDA did all the pre-arrangements in Kapedo. This included the village consultation about the idea, and after the acceptance of the project by the community, enrolment of the women to the workshop. Pre-workshop arrangements have also included making agreements with the local church and the school to use their premises, the venue and the guest house. Women fetched the material in advance, each her own bunch of palm leaves. Liana's responsibility was to look for a suitable person, a professional designer, to work as a volunteer in Kapedo and lead the one-month workshop. Erja-Riitta Alander, a professional textile designer from Finland was selected to the task and started as a Liana volunteer on the 13th April. All work to organise the workshop has been done on a voluntary basis. 

Received with enthusiasm

The idea of a basketry workshop was received with enthusiasm. Eighty-nine women enrolled at once! Realising that the number is too high for one teacher, Liana requested KEDA to try to filter in only the best basket makers. The aim of the workshop is not to teach the technique of making baskets. As the objective is to improve marketing by new designs, every participant should master the technique very well and be able to make very neat handwork. When the workshop started on the 17th April, there were 70 participants present. Later few more came and the daily number of participants was 82. Women divided themselves into groups of 10 for better management of the class. Kapedo Primary School kindly gave the project a big hall as a venue for free. 

We faced a hard decision whether to organise lunches during the workshop or not. Some of the women were often hungry and felt very tired. Sometimes they even laid down and slept a bit in between of work. Then the hunger went away and work continued. We opted not to organise food. Our aim was that women would sell their baskets after the workshop and then buy their food. 

The main objective

The main objective was to create, together with the women in Kapedo, several new designs for baskets made out of Doum palm leaves. The focus was in 

1. product design to meet the needs of the customers

2.  quality improvement (cleanliness, neatness, accuracy in weaving and measuring) and 

3. marketing (meeting orders with accuracy and punctuality)

Funding

Funding for this project came mainly from four individual donors. In addition, the volunteer designer contributed towards her own air ticket. The total budget for was 2600 €. It was all used for operational costs as all workshop work was done on a voluntary basis. 

Timing

The one month workshop took place in April-May 2008. 

What was accomplished?

Several new designs were created during the workshop. These designs bear the name BLACK FLOWER according to an unusual black flower that grows in Kapedo and all over the northern semi-deserts of Kenya. A list of available designs helps in making orders. Over 400 baskets were made during the four weeks of workshop. We are also sure that the workshop make the women realise what huge potential they have if they work together. 

Within less than one month since the end of the workshop Liana has assisted in selling baskets worth about 800 euros. Some were taken to shops in Nairobi and some were sold by Liana member Ric Coe in a charity sale at ILRI (International Livestock Rerearch Institute) and by Liana member Eija Soini in Finland. It is our hope that the products also find their way to the markets elsewhere in the world. KEDA takes care of the marketing. 

 

What next?

If results of the marketing are positive, we will consider continuing the activity by sending a designer to Kapedo every 6-12 months with new designs and ideas. We do realise that product development and staying in business, is a continuous task and not a one-off effort.

"Earlier in Kapedo we depended on livestock, now we rely on women." (DO, Kapedo, in his opening speech)

Updated 14th June 2008