SAWA Artisans in Kibera Community, Kenya

The largest slum in Africa is Kibera. Located just a few miles from the central business district of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Kibera houses anywhere from half a million to one million people, which is more than 25% of Nairobi’s population, crammed into an area the size of Central Park, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world.

People live in makeshift shacks with no utilities or access to clean water, let alone a quality education. The average size of a shack is 12ft x 12ft built with mud walls, a corrugated tin roof, and a dirt floor. These shacks often house up to 8 or more, with many sleeping on the floor.

Other facts plaguing Kibera include: life expectancy of 30 years; half of all Kiberians are under the age of 15; one out of five children in Kibera do not live to see their fifth birthday; extreme poverty with residents earning less than $1.00 per day; few schools, with most unable to afford an education for their children; high unemployment rates; scarcity of clean water, and related diseases caused by poor hygiene; HIV/AIDS rates are amongst the highest in Kenya; and little or no access to healthcare or infrastructure.

In 2017, SAWA founders, Emily Shagley and Stephen Amstutz, were on a philanthropic mission where they worked with the local community to install a borehole at a local school and also developed a self sustaining water project. During this trip is where they met a diverse collective of artisan women from Kibera making a living through art. This group had mastered a unique way of up-cycling magazines and paper and turning them into one-of-a-kind, handcrafted beads. They fell in love with the paper beading techniques which is used today to create SAWA's unique tech accessory products. 

The SAWA office is established in Kibera employ vulnerable women who have encountered hardships such as sex trafficking, HIV and extreme poverty.  SAWA works to improve the lives of all partner artists by providing a fair living wage based on essential living costs such as health care, food, housing, and travel to and from work. The living wage allows SAWA artisans to leave their often dangerous lifestyles behind, provide stability for their families, and pursue financial growth and independence through leadership and mentoring.  SAWA believes that job creation, healthcare, and education is key to breaking and reversing the cycle of poverty.  

Pictured is Shelia, one of the SAWA artisans. She is a vibrant 27-year-old and a mother of two. Her hope is that her children have the opportunity to study hard and one day her son may become a pilot and her daughter a doctor. With the help of SAWA, she has been able to contribute to her family's livelihood, providing food and school fees. Her dream is to provide stability and education for her children and afford land for her family. 







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