Beads for Education

B is for Beads. "E" is for Education."A" is for Advancement."D" is for Development."S" is for Success. What this adds up to is the BEADS for Education Project, started in 1998 by Debby Rooney and Lisa Stevens (Assistant Curator of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Zoo). It's mission is to promote Maasai women's business development, assist in educating Maasai girls and help preserve the wonderful natural resources that Kenya is famous for by raising environmental awareness. BEADS for Education gained tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) status under the umbrella of the Garden of Eve in Rydal, PA. In addition, it is affiliated with the African Wildlife Foundation(AWF).

BEADS provides technical business assistance, start-up capital, school scholarships and workshops for Maasai women and their daughters. Successful businesses have enabled women to provide a better standard of living for themselves and their families. With financial security, women are respected leaders in their communities and, in turn, are better able to manage their resources and environment. These types of changes come slowly in a culture where women are still exchanged with a ''bride price'' (in cows or goats) paid to their fathers and live in traditional dung-hut villages without electricity or water.

One of the groups supported by the BEADS project is the Dupoto Women's Beading Group located in the village of Isinya, about 60 miles south of Nairobi.

There are about 25 Maasai women who belong to this group. They produce beaded items, such as traditional Maasai collars, baskets, coasters, bracelets, dog collars, earrings and clothing to sell in their local market, the Maasai Market, in Nairobi, as well as on the www.beadsforeducation.org website. All the women are paid an ethical wage which is the primary source of income for the support of their children. The Dupoto Women's Group has been so successful that it is now used as a model for similar programs, with members of the group helping to train and educate newly formed women's groups elsewhere in the country.

Education is a critically important aspect of the BEADS project. It provides school fees for young Maasai girls through college and matches sponsors with the daughters of the women who belong to the beading cooperatives, as well as with girls from other Maasai families who cannot afford even the lowest of school fees. In the Maasai culture, parents will often arrange marriages for their daughters as young as 13 years old if they cannot afford to send them to school. The BEADS project now has sponsors for over 230 girls with many more on the waiting list. 100% of the sponsor's donation goes toward each girl's school fees and it is expected that every Maasai family will contribute a minimum of 5% of their daughter's school fees as well. This structure ensures that the family is also committed to their daughter's education, a critical element for success.

BEADS for Education's annual fundraiser is a 100 mile walk-a-thon in Kenya in January. Walkers will include BEADS co-founder, Debby Rooney, and American sponsors, including Reverend Wendy Ellsworth, Maasai warriors, mothers of sponsored girls, high-school graduates and the Chief of the Amboseli region of the Maasai, Chief Oloitipitip. People interested in sponsoring a walker for future events can click on ''Walkathon'' at www.beadsforeducation.org and make donations directly through the website.

BEADS also sponsors Coming of Age Ceremonies in the Kajiado District of southern Kenya that will not involve female genital mutilation (FGM). The first ceremony took place during the full moon on August 20th, 2005. BEADS is initiating an email campaign of support for these courageous women that will go around the world. For further information about this important event, click on ''Coming of Age Ceremony'' on the website above.

''If you educate a woman, you educate a family and ultimately a nation.'' BEADS for Education is fulfilling this mission and goes even further. It is giving the women and girls an opportunity to dramatically alter their lives--to determine their future and that of their families. How awesome to empower these women through their natural talents as beaders!

Unique pendant necklace skillfully combines a variety of materials and techniques

Exotic wall hanging is adapted from Maasai women's necklaces.

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