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Thursday, 22 June, 2000, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Kenya's famous Kazuri beads
Kenya's Kazuri women
Kazuri Beads: Small and beautiful
By Ruth Evans

In the green, leafy suburbs of Karen, on the outskirts of Nairobi there is a rather remarkable small enterprise.

I have learnt how to do new things and it's very satisfying doing something so creative

A Kazuri staff member
Outside a small wooden building, the concrete step is a blaze of colour. Look closely, and the words KAZURI BEADS, are spelt out in the very beads that have made Kazuri famous.

Inside, row upon row of brightly painted beads, bangles and bracelets hang from long wooden poles, giving the impression of entering a veritable Aladdin's cave.

They are all fired from clay and hand painted in wonderful greens and greys, browns and ochres, reds, yellows and blues.

These are the kaleidoscopic colours of Africa.

For sale in the adjoining room are larger items of pottery bowls, plates and mugs decorated with African emblems such as the speckled guinea fowl and animals.

Small is beautiful

Kazuri means "small and beautiful" in Swahili, and this enterprise would truly fit the E.F. Schumacher's economic influential philosophy that small is indeed beautiful.

Kazuri began 20 years ago as a small ceramic workshop employing two women making experimental hand-made beads.

Kenyan Kazuri woman
It began 20 years ago as a small ceramic workshop employing two women
As it grew, it made a point of taking on women from villages around Nairobi who were single mothers.

Many of them were nearly destitute, abandoned by their men or widowed by the Aids epidemic that is ravaging Kenya.

The pottery gave them the employment and livelihood they desperately needed, as well as training them in skills very different from the traditional female crafts of tailoring and weaving.

Today Kazuri has a big workshop next to the sales shop.

Follow the sounds of chatting and laughing and you find the women shaping the clay beads by hand, glazing and painting them ready to be fired in the kilns, and painstakingly threading them onto wire to make necklaces and earrings.

Big piles of beads lie on tables waiting to be threaded and finished.

But these are not factory production lines. No two pieces of jewellery are ever the same.

"I enjoy my job," one woman tells me. "I have learnt how to do new things and its very satisfying doing something so creative."

The women take pride in showing you their craft and clearly each feels they play a part in Kazuri's success.

The pottery

The pottery is a recent addition to Kazuri's wares and has involved new techniques, which have taken time to learn.

Kenyan women on Kazuri
The women take pride in showing their craft
With expansion and the increased demand for clay, the project has set up a clay processing plant using local materials.

It has been a difficult process, and some of the early attempts were not very successful, but the project has now achieved a good quality base material for Kazuri's products, bringing the price of raw materials down and providing more employment, especially to school-leavers, at the processing plant.

Kazuri's products are uniquely and distinctly Kenyan, and find a ready market in the many tourist outlets in the centre of Nairobi.

Judging by the response my purchases have had back home, they would also find a ready market worldwide.

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30 May 00 | Africa
Lights out in Kenya
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