These words are inscribed on the doorway of a slight metal building, on a rocky dirt road lined with delicate structures and strong, enduring people -- oh, so many people. We’re in the heart of the world’s third largest slum, Kibera, outside of Nairobi, Kenya. The work within these walls is honest and precious, for it’s here that our artisans hand-make brass jewelry, building their futures with each piece. The mind, soul, and artistry behind this business was a peaceful man named Stephen, an artisan we recently lost to illness, at age 32.
Our sadness and loss has filled every room and flooded the eyes of every staff member, volunteer, and board member. We could end this blog in great mourning for this warm-hearted and talented entrepreneur and friend.
Instead, we collectively wipe our tears to see what lies in front of us: HOPE in his legacy.
We see beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair.
This legacy began with dignified work.
Stephen moved to the slum from his home village in southwestern Kenya. While Stephen searched for work, he noticed the prevalence of scrap metal within Kibera. Both his grandfather and father were jewelry-makers, so Stephen took the resources at hand and set to work.
Without formal training, Stephen refined his skill with practice and determination. He built this amazing business to support his greatest priority: his loving wife and two young sons.
For Karama, Stephen’s work represented not only incredible talent in brass, but fair employment for others. Stephen found employees within the slum, often young men who could not pay school fees to finish high school and had difficulty finding work. He treated them as apprentices, providing on-the-job training for each new employee. Our artisan coordinator, Dorothy Mrema, summed up his passion for the youth of Kibera:
“His heart was about bringing positive change to the slum and employing even more young people.”
Last month, our product design team returned to Kibera for our regular meetings with Stephen and his now 15 employees. Stephen shared his dreams to expand his workshop, and his hope to train more youth in dignified work. At his request, we closed our meeting in prayer. Stephen passed away one week after our visit.
Friends, we’re in Africa for artists like Stephen..for all of the artisans who strive to use their hands to support their families...for those who long to create using their God-given talents.
Stephen lived out his passion and the mission of Karama, to alleviate poverty by promoting dignity through creative, meaningful work.
His legacy lives on through dignified work in Kibera, where his family manages his business and his many apprentices are becoming artisans, preparing bold and beautiful pieces, letting the work of their hands speak for them.
“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us - yes, establish the work of our hands.” Psalm 90:17