Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not That Kind of Missionary

My parents brought back over 500 Kazuri beads from their trip to Kenya. I realize now, I haven't spoke too much about their trip, their aims, and experiences. Well, mainly that is because this is an art blog. . .But stay with me, it all connects.

My parents decided some years ago to devote themselves to mission work. They began in Mexico, ventured into the Dominican Republic, did some work in Russia and ultimately felt they were of best use in Africa. The part of Africa to which they devote themselves is in Kenya. . . we think. It is a tiny triangle in northern Kenya which Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda all feel they own. Additionally, this tiny triangle is considered by many to be one of the most remote parts of the world. As my Dad says: "Brown claims they go everywhere. Brown don't go there."

This triangle is heavily impoverished because -to my understanding- the native tribe of that area are the Turkana. The Turkana are the lowest tribe of the social standing system in this part of the world. As such, they receive the least of aid and the least of care.

On top of all of this, the number to orphaned children in this triangle -all of Africa really- is staggering. It is a very hard life, hygiene is medieval at best, there is little modern convenience, little medicine, and disease is rampant. Oh, and you know, women are property.

Nancy opening a pen-pal letter from one of my students.

Now, my parents are religious missionaries, but they are different than many you would encounter. They've had a hard time fitting in with much of the missionary crowd because their interest is to ease and aid the life of people right now. Whether or not these people share in their religious beliefs is very secondary to them. This is controversial because much is made in many a missionary circle about saving the spiritual lives of people in tribal cultures. My parents have encountered people who've criticized them claiming that their own goals are loftier because they are trying to save someone's spiritual life. To this, my parents overheard an excellent (if somewhat mercenary response): "If all you are interested in is saving someone's spiritual life, then you should save them and then kill them. Because the quality of life in these areas is horrific. . . And, they would be guaranteed -by your line of thought- to go straight to heaven."

As my Dad likes to say: "I'm not that kind of missionary."

Instead, my parents have devoted themselves to aiding the life of children through education. They deeply respect that their ability to aid the children of Africa is but a drop in a bucket. There is a story they heard told in Africa: A great fire is burning the jungle and all the animals run away. A tiny hummingbird keeps dipping into a lake and then spreads the drops from his wings on the fire. A lion asks the hummingbird why he does this, because surely he cannot stop the fire. The tiny hummingbird replies that if everyone helped the fire could be stopped. My parents respond to this call by finding children who want and need education and providing it to them. . . along with any medical/food etc. issues they may have.

I could wax a very long time about the enduring spirits of many of these children but I will leave you with one: A boy named Cyrus has lived on the street since he was three years old, he has no home. After 8th grade he must pay to attend school, and he scrapes by on odd jobs and does this. He is 16 or 17 years old. He hears my parents are visiting through a kind spirit at a local orphanage who aids him when she is able. This homeless child prepares a resume, finds a way to wear a full dress uniform, gathers all of his test results and requests a meeting with my parents. He tells them that he scored in the top 20% in the recent standardized test, but he knows if they can help him, can do better. He tells them he wants to be a brain surgeon.

My parents can't save everyone, but they can help Cyrus.

students at House of Hope in Lodwar, Kenya opening letters in their "assembly hall" note no chairs, no color, nada

Back to the Kazuri beads. Kazuri, which is a Swahili word that means "small" and "beautiful" is a ceramic bead guild founded in 1918. You can read the full history here. It enables Kenyan women to make their own money and living in a culture that would otherwise deny them this. The average woman who works at Kazuri makes three times the average income of anyone in her area. Each and every bead is painstakingly made by hand and glazed by hand. . . And, seriously, they are beautiful. My parents purchased these beads and it was a sacrifice. The beads themselves are not at all expensive by American standards. My understanding is that the beads can be purchased for pennies on-site. But, the weight of the beads is extraordinary. My parents had to carry these beads everywhere with them, and many of the places to which they travel have severe weight limitations due to tiny prop planes etc. etc.

One of my art club students stringing a Kazuri bead onto a necklace.

It was important to bring these beads back because we intend to use them here in America to further aid children in Kenya. My art club students spent this afternoon stringing the beads onto waxed string and jewelry papers. It is our intention to sell our Kazuri bead necklaces and devote 100% of the charge of the necklaces to purchasing a playground at House of Hope in Lodwar, Kenya. The children there have no place in which to play, and the terrain is very harsh and not conducive to play. So, what was made in Kenya to help those make a living will be resold in America to purchase a playground in Kenya.

bag of about 250 round Kazuri beads

And, in case you were wondering individual Kazuri beads sell for around $6.00 to $12.00 in America. Several acquaintances of my mother upon spying the beads tried to buy the entire sack off of her!

My students, my parents, and myself are hoping to set up a etsy/ebay account to sell the necklaces. We have 500 beads and our goal is to earn $5,000

So, my question is, do you want a necklace?


  1. I do! Keep us posted when you set up the shop.

  2. Angie, thank you!! I will absolutely let you know!

    Definitely keep us posted!

  4. Sure. I'm a jewelry nut. Please let us know when/how to purchase.