Meet the Makers: Florence, Lorna and Mary

Posted by Sandy Glanfield on


Meet the women who hand sew the colourful juggling balls we sell. Our friends at Pursue Kenya run a programme that enables them to meet weekly. Based in the village of Shirotso in Western Kenya, they make the balls from scraps of fabric (Kitenge) donated by local tailors and filled with a local lentil called ndengu.

But it’s not just about what they make. 

Each of the women who attends the workshops is a widow. The workshops allow them to discover new skills, forge new friendships, gossip and have fun. Leanne Coggan of Pursue Kenya explains:

Before any of the widows became involved…the majority of them had been ostracised by their communities and were isolated and very low in mood. Many of them had not had someone visit them for years, and felt unloved and worthless, and that their lives lacked purpose or hope.”

Leanne works closely with Florence, Lorna and Mary – she says they are some of her favourite people – and explains that this group of just three craft the juggling balls. The group was originally larger, but health issues have had an impact.

All the widows live below the poverty line and subsistence farming is a way of life for the women.  Each day they work their land, tend to livestock, and fetch water and firewood. In addition, they all care for several grandchildren whose parents have left rural life for cities in search of jobs. These extra responsibilities of feeding, educating and meeting their grandchildren’s medical needs are hard to bear. Especially as – being widows who have not brought sons to their families – they occupy the lowest social status in their communities.

These are some of the things the widows have said since joining the workshops:

I had not been hugged for so long. My first hug from Ceciliah (of Pursue Kenya) woke up something in me and now I get hugs all the time!

People in the community like me because they see I must matter to be visited by white people! I am not lonely and I am so happy because I know I am loved and have friends.

My life has a purpose now, everything has changed, yesterday I was nobody, today I am a big someone and everyone knows it!

Mary is the youngest of the three widows. When her husband died, she was blamed for his death and shunned by family and friends. At her lowest point, she considered suicide. But Leanne says that, since being able to generate an income through the sale of the juggling balls, Mary hasn’t stopped smiling and (up until the pandemic) always had a house full of friends. She has been appointed the role of secretary for the wider Pursue group and when asked recently how she felt about Pursue Kenya, she said:

It has given me back my life but even more than it was!

The impact of Covid-19

Leanne explains that their struggle for food has been heightened. The local market places – where the women both sell and buy food –  have been closed. In addition, several of them rely on money sent back from a relative working in the city. The loss of jobs has meant that this money is no longer being received. And the women’s grandchildren are currently receiving no education at all as schools are closed until at least January.

Nor are the widows able to meet up as usual or get their hugs – but they know this will not be forever, and that their lives have already changed for the better.

What better way to start helping others than by learning to juggle this Christmas. Thank you for helping to support these wonderful women, especially in such challenging times. 

Every one of our ethical gifts is made by people whose lives are improved with the purchases you make: they gain an income and a purpose, and they are given the opportunity to come together with others and contribute to their communities in a meaningful way. 

Author: Becky Matthews