‘Once you start the weaving, God will furnish the skein.’
One of the best parts about living in Kenya is that when you venture out, generally you never really know what you’ll find. Not only are there the variables of livestock being herded across the roads or the piki piks (motorcycle taxis) weaving in and out of traffic, fighting for their slice of the street but there are also the various make-shift shops (or “dukas” as they say in Swahili) scattered here and there, as well. Often you see them lining the sides of the dirt roads, selling clothes, tightly woven baskets, colorful massai blankets, wooden figurines and trinkets, or children’s toys made out of tin cans. Anything they can make really, that can fetch a good price and put food on the table for the night.
But then it happens at times when you venture further off the main roads and into the sprawling acres of the country that you stumble upon something of a different nature entirely. Something tucked deeply away, out of plain sight. Something well established within the community, built with care and intention. Something established not just to feed a family for a day but to equip a community to feed and support themselves for a lifetime.
Something set on cultivating the very best within a community. Something that cultivates the goodness found within each of us when we find points of commonality and partner together, cultivating the true nature of what it means to be family and out of that place cultivating the beauty that can only be found when we set our differences aside and work together towards a common goal.
My family and I stumbled across one such place as we were staying up country at a place called, Kembu Farms near Molo. Kembu is an amazing family campground complete with farm tours, an obstacle course, cooking classes, and so much more. But what is perhaps, less well known is their humble family-owned shop open on Mondays and Fridays, called Kenana Knitters. To many it’s just another item on the list of things to do and see at Kembu Farms. But if you venture over to the shop you’ll find it’s something else entirely.
We pulled up to Kenana Knitters and before we even saw the storefront we were greeted by several of the knitters themselves, hard at work. There they sat, women of different ages and tribes, gathered around tables or on the grass, chatting and knitting away. We smiled and said, “Habari” and they returned the greeting. We then were invited to go on a tour wherein they shared their story.
As we adults perused their impressive stock of high-quality knitted goods and my children excitedly pulled the knitted stuffed animals off the shelves to cuddle and snuggle with, we began to realize just how much care had been taken and what an incredible story it truly was.
We began to hear of 100’s of lives being transformed, women and children finding a place and family to belong to, of honest work being done here that paved the way for further education and opportunities, of a safe haven in times of unrest and uncertainty.
As Kerry Outram, happily answered our questions, we could see how proud she was of Kenana Knitters and it’s unique impact on the community.
We were delighted that they were also open to doing an interview to share with Cultivating readers!
PM: How did Kenana Knitters get started?
KK: Kenana Knitters is a grassroots business that was begun in the early 1980’s by local Kenyan, Patricia Nightingale, to help a group of women who were lacking a market for their homespun yarn. She transformed their yarn into unique creations with her distinctive designs, that included plush toys, home décor, clothing and accessories. With a vision to further impact the community, we taught other women in the area to knit beautiful, organic products using local, sustainable resources.
Today, Kenana Knitters sells a collection of hundreds of unique products both locally and around the world, employing over 500 knitters and spinners.
PM: Why did it get started? Why do you do what you do?
KK: “There is limited welfare state in Kenya so emergency medical expenses are often impossible to afford and are absolutely devastating to a family’s finances. According to Unicef, 12% of girls aged 15-19 are married or in union and 26% will give birth prior to 18 years of age. A massive number of Kenyans (1.5 million ) are HIV positive, over half of which are women. The hardest hit are the 1.2 million children orphaned because of disease. We knew that we wanted to change some of those statistics and that using our available resources we could help change the direction for those women in our own area.
We share more about this on our website here.”
PM: How does the Kenana Knitters program work to transform the lives of the women in the community?
KK: “Kenana Knitters believes that women are the heartbeat of their communities. Kenana Knitters’ ethos is to make a significant social impact in rural Kenya by empowering women to take charge of their lives through dignified work in a safe, family-friendly working environment. Kenana does this by providing a source of income at a fair wage that goes directly into the hands of the women, enabling them to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.”
Kenana Knitters prides itself on operating within the cultural context of the daily demands of rural Kenyan women, including farming and tending their children, with respect to the environmental challenges. Knitting is ideal in this sense, as it requires minimal equipment and can be done in small amounts of time. Knitting can even be done on the long walks that are required in rural areas and in the dark, since most of the women live without electricity.
The sale of Kenana Knitters items helps women knit a brighter future through additional skill development opportunities including IT courses and literacy classes. It also invests in the overall welfare of the women by providing medical and financial services, among other things.
PM: What are some of the specific strengths of Kenana Knitters?
KK: Kenana Knitters isn’t just about the product, but contributes to the overall welfare and advancement of the women themselves, who are involved with the project. Without support, many would go without basic medical needs. They also lack the finances to manage unexpected health expenses. Through sales of the products we are able to fund the following clinics and services, at no extra cost to the knitters, or their family members:
- Family Planning clinics
- HIV/AIDS testing, counselling and treatment
- Homeopathic healthcare and prevention
- Women’s Health Clinic
- Emergency Medical Assistance
- Basic IT training and computer skills
- Adult Literacy classes
- ‘Grassroot’ Financial Management Tools
- Access to daily newspapers and on-site radio
- Electrical power outlets enabling ladies to re-charge phones, lights, flashlights etc.
As we shopped that day at Kembu Farms, it was very apparent to all of us that Kenana Knitters is not just another shop along the way. This is something unique. Something set on cultivating the very best within those who are a part of it. Something that cultivates truth as we come together just as we are, meeting the needs among us. Something that cultivates the goodness found within each of us when we find those humane points of commonality and partner together, therein living out the true nature of what it means to be family. We are thrilled to be part of this good work!
Kenana Knitters strives out of that place of common need, to cultivate the kind of rare beauty that can only be produced when we set our differences aside, meet each other’s needs and work together towards a common goal.
To contact or get involved with Kenana Knitters, see below:
Facebook: Kenana Knitters, Ltd.
Many blessings, friends!