Apart from cattle keeping, the residents of Narok, especially women have for some time now discovered another business they engage to generate income.
Beading has become a popular activity especially to the residents of Narok town and its outskirts as they try to cash in on the number of tourists who flock into the county each year mainly to visit the famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
The County government on realizing the importance of this art to the locals has asked all tourist hotels in the county not to engage in selling beadwork but leave it to the locals.
Some beaders do it for leisure purposely because they are talented while others do it as a source of income. Youths in the area were not initially very enthusiastic about this source of income but after realizing the potential in this business, many are now engaging in it.
Some of the products made of beads include wristbands, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, Maasai cultural clothes and belts among others.
Meet 25-year-old Samson Muturi, a young resident of Narok town and a beader who says bead work has become a popular activity among many unemployed youths in the county to earn a living, adding that the industry now employs thousands of youths.
“I dropped out of school while I was in form two because of lack of school fees and instead of being idle, I decided to join beading to meet my daily needs,” he says.
When Muturi dropped out of school, he then joined a friend who was a bead crafter in Narok town where he gained skills in beadwork. He then worked for him for six months before he started his own beadwork a year later.
He opened his own business with only Shs. 5,000 eight months ago. He says once you have learnt it, beading is a simple art unlike other arts which are strenuous.
During a good season which is normally the high tourists’ season in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, a beader can make a profit of up to Shs.30, 000 in a week.
Some beaders have formed self help groups to help uplift their standards and market their wares. The beads are imported from Somalia, Czech Republic and India. The crafters prefer materials from Czech Republic because they are of higher quality and therefore make better quality crafts and last longer as compared to those from India and Somalia.
Evelyn Netaya, another youth who has decided to join the bead work industry says she has been able to reap some benefits from the business as she is now able to raise her family and educate her children comfortably.
The mother of four is now urging Maasai women to embrace this business and avoid relying on their husbands of the traditional livestock as reliance to livestock has brought them great loses and suffering in times of drought.
Netaya also adds that apart from beading people could also do sculptures for selling to tourists. She says she liked beading since she was young and her mother supported her by buying her beads she used to do her crafts. She then appeals to other women to support the talents of their children.
Netaya says that they formed a self-help group to help them in marketing of their products and uplift their standards of living. They are also able to access loans from the banks and other lending organizations through these groups. They also save for the rainy day through these groups.
She is now appealing to the county government to build a cultural centre in Narok town where tourists can visit to learn more about Maasai culture and buy their crafts.
Netaya says since she started the business five years ago, she has also been able to do a number of things to improve her life and that of her family by buying a good number of livestock for example, in order to improve her faming.
She is advising the youth not to rely on government for employment but rather endeavor to employ themselves and create employment for other youths.
Unfortunately, due to the popularity of these crafts in the market and the ease of making them, many children have dropped of school to venture into beadwork.
Those in this business are also complaining that Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has been taxing them heavily and asked the government to consider zero-rating tax on the imported raw materials and the county government too, to consider reducing levies chargeable to them.
Competition is also stiff in the industry and also when the number of visitors touring Maasai Mara declines due to travel advisories form the Western Nations over insecurity, this affects the beading industry and scores of people who depend on it.
Muturi on the other hand is appealing to both the national and county governments to come up with a clear fund and policies to help the less fortunate youth and orphans complete their education saying his ambitions to go back to school and achieve his bigger dreams were still alive and well. He notes that the education bursary offered is just a drop in the ocean as compared to the number of needy cases.
The government has set aside money for women and youth empowerment through the Women, Youth fund and Uwezo Funds but Muturi says much of these funds are out of reach for the common youths as they cannot meet many of the requirements such as collateral, a sound Bank account among others.
But he is quick to add that those who have benefited from the funds have had their lives improved and is a sure way of eradicating poverty, idleness among the youths as well as overdependence on handouts and on sole family breadwinners thus reducing the economies of scale.
Muturi is of the view that the government should continue supporting small business enterprises in order reduce to crime and consumption the illicit drug abuse among the youths.
By Mabel Keya –Shikuku/Sipei Sankale