Catherine with an Elderly Woman weaving. Credit:: Brits in Kenya.

MATHIGA, 124 miles northeast of the capital Nairobi – Kenya, Sheltered by a tarpaulin from the blazing sun, a group of Kenyan Elderly women weave handfuls of dried reeds into exquisite baskets, mats and hats for sale to tourists from around the world.

In a land where the sun fully smiles upon the ground cracking the earth and giving very limited room for farming, entrepreneurship is a necessity for survival. And the elderly women of this land have not lagged behind.

Mathiga is home to Tharaka Green Gold group, which brings together elderly entrepreneurs who started weaving baskets a decade ago. It is a group of 30 elderly women, all older than 60 years of age. “We could barely manage to farm, yet we had to survive, eat, clothe (ourselves) and have a decent shelter,” said Regina Kaari, 70, a proud member of the group.

Initially, when they sold their baskets to locals and a few tourists, they hardly made enough to survive. One day, opportunity struck when Catherine Kareaikwa, one of the residents of Mathiga visited the coastal town of Malindi. There she discovered that vendors sold woven baskets to tourists for as much as 1,200 shillings. So she returned home and looked for these elderly weavers so that she could give them a better business deal for their products.

Regina Kaari, an Elderly Woman weaving a mat in Mathiga Village, Kenya on May 2, 2018. Credit: The Star

She buys the baskets from them at a 150% higher price more than their original price. She then resells them at the coastal town of Malindi. As the business opportunity grows, the prices paid to the women rise too! With time, Catherine advised the elderly women to embed other materials including leather, Ankara, and other decorative elements into their creations – which increased demand further.

“The more the customers, the higher the prices,” Kareaikwa said. A virtuous circle that has improved the women’s quality of life. Other women have joined too, or started more groups, weaving goods for resale to Kenya’s growing tourism market.

The business has been able to withstand the seasonal challenges and continues to thrive. The elderly women persuaded by aid groups to stop felling trees for charcoal and instead harvest more of the fruits of the tamarind and baobab trees for juice. And with help from the aid groups, they learned how to package it for sale. That’s diversification stepping in and also conserving and managing natural resources.

“The benefits of working together like this go beyond simply diversifying income,” said Jafford Njeru, a natural resources management expert and lecturer at nearby Chuka University.

Faith Karauki, an Elderly Woman displaying some finished products in Mathiga Village, Kenya. Credit: Tharaka Green Gold

Their goods have been exhibited in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and earlier this year at Britain’s Birmingham Spring Exhibition. Kenya’s move last year to ban plastic bags also created more demand for their baskets, and so the women have planted more reeds to meet that. More reeds – less soil erosion.

Sixty-six-year-old Faith Karauki said it has helped her provide for her family. And Faith Gakii has been able to pay for her grandchildren’s education. The venture has brought financial independence for the elderly women entrepreneurs.

“Basketry has not only offered a source of livelihood, but it has also opened doors for us in the world,” said Catherine.

This is truly a testament that entrepreneurship has no age limit! #Rewordit.

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