Jewellery, household & leather goods
Bombolulu’s disabled workshops employ 160 people from all over Kenya. They have four workshops: jewellery, textiles, carving and mobility, where they make their own aids in a dedicated workshop. They are members of WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation).
Founded in 1969 as a rehabilitation centre, they were largely supported by the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya. Now their wonderful skills help them earn their own income. .
Jewellery is the best selling product they make and they use mixed materials, including Masai and Turkana beads, semi-precious stones, silver plate, brass, bone, soapstone, and recycled materials (for example safety pin and telephone wire and drinks cans).
Carvings - masks, bowls and salad servers, are handpainted with colours and patterns that reflect their environment. Batik bone is also used.
Wood, including mahogany and neem for salad servers, comes from sustainable farm forest - branches are harvested and so this avoids cutting the trees down. Leather products include belts and bags.
Most of Bombolulu’s workers have sheltered housing on site. There is a nursery for the workers’ children and a big playing field which the older kids use for football.
...Security of employment is an enormous help to disabled workers as they have to earn their own income to survive. As one worker, Alice Mumbua, said, “Without Bombolulu, I’d probably be begging on the streets.”
Barbara Wilson, lovethatstuff director, visits Bombolulu
The journey by bus from Nairobi to Mombasa takes about seven hours, through immense dusty grassland plains dotted with acacia. I’m glued to the window throughout the journey, gazing at the vast Kenyan landscape.
There are rich red earth hills with smallholdings and after, on to vast, dry flatlands again with the curious upside down looking baobab trees. And finally, we reach the lusher, greener outskirts of Mombasa.
I spend the whole seven hours watching the panoramas unfold, while most of the rest of the bus sleep, eat and read. I guess they've seen it all before.
The sun is going down as we reach the main Mombasa bus stop and there is John, one of Bombolulu's drivers, with the mini-bus.
We are around an hour late because of the horrendous traffic in Nairobi and, boy, am I really happy to see him.
On the way to Bombolulu he tells me about his wife and four children, and that, although primary school is now free, school uniforms aren't and these have to be new and are expensive.
…As always when I've visited producer groups, I am inspired by their talent and courage, and humbled by their tenacity in the face of huge odds…
Meeting the producers
Why is there no secondhand school uniform scheme? This seems quite perverse, especially since almost all the rest of the clothes people wear are secondhand, brought in from the waste created by the excesses of the US clothing market mainly, and sold in market stalls by Kenyans. Home produced clothing with African cotton is comparatively too expensive for most people.
Elizabeth is there to meet me when we arrive. She is tall and lovely with a beautiful smile and gentle voice. She takes me to the guesthouse, which is spacious and comfortable. Very kindly, the restaurant have prepared dinner for me - vegetable stew and bread - mmm, very good.
I am pretty tired by the journey so Elizabeth and I agree to meet at 8.30 the next morning and I can look round the workshops and meet some of the producers.
Disabled Kenyans need to be self-reliant, with some help from NGO's (non-govermental organisations) like APDK who practically support people with disabilities. On that first morning, Hubert Siefert, the executive director, explains to me that times are tough because Bombolulu is being hit hard by the drop in tourist numbers after the recent political unrest in the Rift Valley.
Their export sales usually account for 45% of income, and tourist revenue 55%. Disastrously, the tourist revenue has dropped by 92% but fortunately, their export partners have rallied to increase their sales, helping Bombolulu Workshops through a difficult time.
The coming months will prove a challenge since export customers have already ordered for Christmas so there will be a lull before spring. Bombolulu hope tourists will return this winter - there are no safety nets here - no sales, no income.