Mama Masai is the name given to two hundred women, divided into fifteen groups throughout Simanjiro, northern Tanzania who make beaded craft-ware. The initiative has grown steadily since 2000, and now enables the women to earn their own money for the first time in the history of their community. Each woman is paid a fair price for everything she makes.
The beads have given us a voice. With this money we have been able to improve our houses. Buy goats, books, cloths and medicines for our children. In this way we will further our development and increase our standard of living.
Mama Masai was founded by Joy Stephens, who spent seventeen years in Nepal followed by another eight in Tanzania. During that time she worked with different groups of mainly women on a variety of development projects. Mama Masai was born from her experience in the field. Joy’s idea was to train Masai women to produce original craftwork using traditional beading skills and sell it to generate extra income for their families.
Joy’s attention was brought to the plight of the Masai people in 2000 after years of devastating drought led to the loss of up to 90% of their livestock herds. For the Masai, cattle and goats are a means of livelihood, and are used as a form of in-kind currency. They eat the meat, drink the milk, and make a variety of goods both to use and sell, including leather which they tan themselves. The drought destroyed their herds and therefore their wealth, their earning potential and the inheritance passed on by one generation to the next, leaving them in a desperate position.
What We Do
The skills of the Masai women are familiar to many who have lived in or visited Tanzania. Their beautiful, colourful decorations and the quality of their finished products appeal to an international market. Joy began to work with them developing new designs which would be attractive to the tourists and expatriate community.
New and traditional beadwork
The range of products developed with the women now includes table mats, coasters, wine-glass charms and napkin rings, earrings, Christmas ornaments and mirrors. Two of the groups also work on leather products decorated with traditional beadwork.
Once the goods have been made, they are sent or brought down to Dar es Salaam and can be found in the Mama Masai shop and in a variety of other outlets, craft markets and safari lodges as well as in a growing number of fair-trade shops in countries all over the world.
Sales generated through Fair Trade Friends have stimulated an increase in production and quality, as well as providing a much needed injection of cash for the Masai women and their families. Several groups have been able to set up a Village Community Bank (VICOBA) with the money they have earned. This is a rural cooperative association whose members contribute small sums of money for saving. Once they are established, members may then take loans.
As a result, many families have been able to afford a corrugated iron roof for their homes, school books for their children and medicines for family members.