By Talley Diggs
Mama Caleb and Mama Faith unfurled a blanket in the shade of a tree and got to work on the quilt. The two women sat in silence for three hours while they meticulously beaded the cloth swaths I’d given them with impressive dexterity. Mama Faith stitched a camel in bright blue, orange, and yellow beads that matched her wide shanga, a handmade traditional necklace for Samburu women. To her left side sat Mama Caleb, who clenched a needle between her teeth and concentrated on the cow pattern on her lap.
These Samburu mamas are both direct beneficiaries of CPI Kenya’s children peace building program. In Kenya, women’s identities seem to morph upon childbirth, at which time they are informally renamed “Mama [Insert Firstborn Child’s Name Here].” Mama Caleb, formerly Esther, is known by the name of her son, Caleb, who attended a CPI Peace Camp five years ago. Likewise, Mama Faith, officially Joyce, is called by the name of her firstborn daughter. The two matriarchs are cunning business women sporting fierce stares that break easily into warm smiles when greeted.
Their tenacious will to provide for their families at all costs is astounding. Mama Faith supports her children by trading goods across village lines using a banking app on her mobile phone called mpesa. Mama Caleb, long widowed, walks several hours from her hut to Logorate town to trade greens at her stall made of sticks and cardboard boxes. She used to sell the produce grown on her fertile farmland, but due to the drought her land is a dry, dusty patch of red soil and she must buy the greens that she later sells. Every three days, she can make about $3 to contribute to her children’s school fees and to feed the five grandchildren that live with her. In fact, I recently learned that Caleb is actually her grandson, who she raised as her own after her daughter got pregnant while still in school.
These women are pillars of their community and have grown to be great friends of CPI Kenya over the years. They are always overjoyed to give voice to CPI’s impact and provide testimonies of the social transformation they witnessed in their community thanks to the peace building program with children. It is this spirit of gratitude and faith in CPI that eventually led to me sitting in a field and watching them stitch animal patches for a quilt. The Advocacy Project has developed a unique promotional strategy that uses quilts to tell stories and advocate for organizations. The quilts have traditionally been hand-stitched to depict cultural symbols or images of struggle endured by beneficiaries.
Rather than embroidering designs on patches with thread, the CPI team wanted to make the project culturally contextual and create an advocacy quilt using beading techniques—a craft more authentic to pastoralist culture in Kenya than traditional quilting or embroidery. We had a vision of a quilt adorned in the same vibrant colors that embellish Samburu, Pokot, and Turkana women across northwestern Kenya. We wanted our advocacy quilt to be as local as possible throughout the entire production process, so we commissioned one of our beneficiaries, a Class 6 Samburu boy in Baragoi, to draw designs for the patches. We settled on four patterns that reflected CPI’s work and the pastoralist way of life.
- A Heifer: a critical means of livelihood and status in pastoralist cultures. CPI Kenya rewards inter-tribal relationships with Heifers for Peace, which transforms a source of conflict and violence into a source of peace and friendship.
- A Goat: a source of nourishment for pastoralists and prevalent in livestock herding.
- A Camel: also a common livestock that is particularly valuable because of its resistance to drought that currently plagues the region.
- A Woman’s Face with Tribal Headdress and Beads: a reflection of the women who have lost children to conflict and strive now for peace within their communities.
The four designs were then transcribed onto 16 white cloth squares (4 each) by an artist in Nairobi. After the necessary beads and supplies were purchased, we traveled to the field to commission mamas to bead the squares. Mama Caleb was immediately on board and rallied her friend, Mama Faith, to join the cause. The women asked for nothing in return and were happy to give back to CPI Kenya. “What is motivating me to make the quilt is this program and what it has done for my family,” Mama Faith said emotionally. “Four of my children have made Pokot friends through CPI Kenya’s children peace building program.”
The program has had significant impact on Mama Faith’s quality of life. Increased stability, inter-community trust, and permanent settlement in the area due to peace has secured her trading business to thrive and her customer base to extend across tribal lines. She also has received a Heifer for Peace from CPI that offers additional income. In addition to economic benefits, she cites social perks that have made her grateful for CPI. “I have made three Pokot friends who bring me food and I bring food over there to trade. They send me money via mpesa—not even to buy them anything, but just as a gift. Sometimes I wake up and go buy foodstuffs to take them just for being my friends. This makes me feel very happy.”
Mama Caleb expressed similar sentiments towards the impact of CPI Kenya on her livelihood. Sustained peace in Samburu County is a very personal subject for her. She recalls sleeping under her bed during conflict to avoid stray bullets in case of attacks during a raid and waking up relieved to see her children were still alive. She lost a grandchild during a peak of violence when he succumbed to pneumonia after sleeping several nights in the cold while hiding in the bush from warriors. Having survived the conflict, Mama Caleb has an immense appreciation for peace and is dedicated to sustaining it. “Caleb attending Peace Camp changed my attitude. Now I believe I can live the rest of my days without being killed by Pokots,” she told me.
Mama Caleb currently has only four goats and no cows to support her family. Despite the daily hardships of her life, she is glad to spend the next few weeks beading squares for a quilt that will tell the tale of CPI’s work. Through the Heifers for Peace program, CPI hopes to give Mama Caleb a cow in the coming weeks to ease her burden and reciprocate her generosity. Mama Caleb and Mama Faith’s final product will be a quilt that is beaded with passion for peace and stitched in memory of the conflict they endured before CPI Kenya came to Samburu County.