Most of the employees at Mitumba Art come from poor and remote communities in Northern Laikipia. The opportunities for secondary education, let alone training in artistic skills are few and far between. Most of the artists in the company were trained by, Sue Dumbelton who has given up alot of her time to give these youngsters a chance.
Many of the staff have received further education due to sponsorship, at secondary schools and technical colleges in order that their skill levels improve.
Chelena Kusian Chelena is 21 years old and has two children (aged 6½ and 2½). She is a single parent from a pastoral community in the semi arid area of Northern Kenya, which was particularly hard hit by the drought over the past few years. She is one of nine siblings of which only three others have jobs (two of them also with Mitumba Art). Chelena’s parents own no land but eke out a living with their one cow and 10 goats.
Chelena had the benefit of a primary school education up to the age of twelve. She was then likely to be married as the 2nd or 3rd wife of a local Maasai man.
She met Sonja when Sonja was helping the local nurse Agnes to establish the first ever Mobile Clinic in the village of Leporour.Chelena was very persistent and began simply cleaning the clinic. Sonja and Agnes sent Chelena to do a first aid course, she rapidly proved she was a fast learner. This was Chelena’s key opportunity to escape from a life of servitude and poverty and was sent to a local college to learn seamstress skills in 2005. Again she proved she has a talent for sewing and fine attention to detail. Since becoming Sonja’s senior seamstress Chelena has learned many of the skills required and now even teaches new potential sewers. From being a young girl in a poor community with little outlook or prospects Chelena now is earning a good wage and is able to ensure that her children have all the opportunities to make the most of their own abilities. She also has set up her own business by buying food and clothes and taking them back to her village and selling them on. Chelenea has grown immeasurably in confidence and is a shining example of what can be achieved.
Ephraim Njogu 25 year old Ephraim Njogu, is a Kikuyu man from the small village of Ethi in Laikipia. Ephraim is one of 6 siblings, with one brother and four sisters. His sisters are all married except for one who is in college and supported by Ephraim full time.
Ephraim’s parents farm 25 acres of land producing wheat and maize as well as holding cattle and goats, sadly they lost 50 goats and two cows in the recent drought.
Ephraim went to a local primary school until he was fourteen but his parents could not afford to send him to secondary school.
After a year with no work Ephraim was directed to Sue Dumbelton who quickly recognised and developed his artistic talent. He spent four years with Sue and then got a job with a local pottery painting business. He then came to ask to work with Sonja as Ephraim is a very talented artist. His paintings of birds and animals on the cards and soft furnishings are exquisite.
Ephraim is now able to support both his parents and sister at college as a result of having a well paid enjoyable job with Mitumba Art. He believes that if he had not had the opportunity to develop and use his artistic talent he would be ekking out a living as a farmer or casual laborer. He is a quicker learner and keen to learn the other skills within Mitumba Art as a beader or tailor.
Charity Mrimbele was born and raised on the boundaries of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Charity is confined to a wheel chair and has limited use of one hand as a result of contracting polio as youngster. Charity spent her early years of her life at the “Small Home for the Disabled” in Meru.
She would only be allowed home only once a year, then unfortunaly in 1994 her parents could no longer afford the fees and had to take her out.
For the next ten years she lived at home in a house with no floors and was totally dependent on Carers. She has the most beautiful singing voice which she practices every Sunday at the local Baptist church where she is the choir chairperson and teaches bible classes.
Charity now lives in the new workshop accommodation with her Carer Nancy, who also works as the Mitumba Art cook and cleaner. Charity was faced with growing old with almost no chance of a meaningful job or chance to make a living, she is now able to support her parents and look forward to a full and rewarding life in gainful employment. She says the greatest of benefits of living and working in Mitumba Art is that she is independent and can look after herself most of the time.
In 2006 Charity was recommended to Sonja by Jane Craig. She became one of the first staff to work for the company as Charity is immensely talented as a hand-beader and organizer. She runs the beading department within Mitumba Art and is very productive
Sabina is 24, a Meru and one of Mitumba Art’s original artists. Her home is in Meru Town where her two brothers and one sister come from and Sabina’s father is a tailor who often advises Sonja on clothes making.
Sabina went only to Primary school as her father could not afford the fees of secondary school. However having loved art since early in her education she was advised to develop her skills with Sue Dumbelton, where she served an apprenticeship for 2 ½ years. Sue then pointed her at Mitumba Art where she was welcomed with open arms.
As a result of working at Mitumba Art Sabina is now able to help her brother through secondary school; she can also afford the rent, utility bills and of course food. There has been such a positive change in her lifestyle for the future.
Phineas Mutua Ikiugu
Phineas is 26, a Meru from a small village near Meru town. His parents have both sadly died but his grandfather is still alive and going strong at over 80. He has a sister, aged 28 with one child, and a brother who is still at secondary school. Phineas went to local primary school but his mother was only able to afford 2 years of secondary school. Phineas discovered his love of and ability as an artist when he was at primary school. His aunt learned of Sue Dumbelton’s workshop in Ngare Ndare and in 2002 and then spent 1½ years with her before moving to work as a pottery painter at Lewa Pottery in 2003 then in 2007 he joined Sonja in Mitumba Art.
Phineas admits that if he did not get a job with Sonja he would have struggled and not done well. He is now enjoying life and focused as an artist with talent. He loves this job and working with his collegues.
Joy Karegi, 28, is the younger sister of Charity and is a divorced mother with two children, who started to work for Mitumba Art in August 2009. Her home is Matunda near
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy; she went to Ntugi Primary School but her parents were not able to afford a secondary education.
Until she started work for Mitumba Art she sold vegetables to scrap a living. Now she has a regular job she is able to put both her children through school, her daughter who is seven is in year two of primary school while her son is in nursery school.
Joy has learned a skill with Mitumba Art as part of the sewing team, for which she is very grateful. She finds it difficult to explain all the benefits she now enjoys from having a regular job.
Joy was married to a Kalenjin man but during the violence at the 2007 elections he was ordered to kick his wife out of the home they shared together or he and she would be killed. Therefore she had to go back to live with her sisters.
Isaiah Kamau is 29 single Kikuyu from a large family of six brothers and five sisters. Two of his sisters are married and one brother is employed.
His other siblings are in education. Isaiah had a primary education only but was lucky enough to have his art skills recognised and honed by Sue Dumbelton for 3½ years from 2004.
Following this apprenticeship he could only find work in a flower farm working on the packing room, however in 2007 Sue recommended him to Sonja and he was “snapped up”. He is a wonderful artist.
Isaiah appreciates his work with Mitumba Art. He says he can now afford the independence and freedom of living on his own. He still provides over 50% of his salary to his parents and family, helping his brothers and sisters through their education.
Mary Timate is a beader; she not sure how old she is and Mary sisters with Chelene. She has a younger sister aged 36 so thinks she may be about 38. She is married with seven children; five boys and two girls. Her oldest girl is in college studying tourism, her other children in primary and secondary education.
Mary’s husband lives in Rumuruiti, about 150km from Nanyuki and he is a herder although sadly he lost about 100 cattle in the drought of 2009. Life is therefore a struggle. Mary goes home once a year. Mary’s children are in school in or close to Nanyuki. Mary is very happy working for Mitumba Art as she can now afford to put her children through school and help her family cope in hard times.
Lydiah Kinya is 26 and works beading/embroidering and packaging.
Lydiah came to work with Mitumba Art while we were on Lewa, having previously worked as a house girl. She received a partial primary education but had to stop when her family could no longer afford the cost. Lydiah has two children (seven and two) plus one brother and four sisters. None of them have been successful in finding a job. Her family rent 1.5 acres of land to grow maize and beans.
Lydiah is now able to educate her children and provide an income to her family, and her husband is a handyman who finds work for about 25% of the time.
Gladys Kamakei Korosian
Gladys is Maasai, sister to Chelena, from the small village of Leparua.
The rest of the family are all pastoral farmers in Isiolo district.
Gladys lives near Nanyuki with her daughter and one sister. She is home schooling them both as well as her two boys who live at home in Leparua.
As a result of working for Mitumba Art Gladys is now able to afford a house, educate, feed and clothe her children which has been a huge relief and comfort to the whole family.
Nancy is Charity’s Carer. Her previous employment was on a local farm where she earned less than ksh100, about $1.20, per day.
Nancy came to ensure that Charity was looked after properly, she also lives in the workshop accommodation with Charity and she is also employed by Mitumba Art as a cook and cleaner.
As a result of this income she is now able to support her father who is in a wheelchair and requires specialist care.
John Mwenda at 20 is the youngest member of Mitumba Art. He is Meru, has recently finished secondary education having been supported by Melody Taft on a bursary.
John is trying to raise money to afford his next stage of education where he would like to study criminology.
In the meantime John work for Mitumba Art, he has always spent all his holidays for the past five years with the workshop. He is an expert handyman and makes all the recycled animal dung paper.
To John, Sonja is his second mother who he has always depended on for advice and help.
Mary is 40 and Kikuyu, a mother of three children. Of her three children (27; 24; 21) only one has a job as a business owner in Mombasa. She also has one grandson who lives with her.
Mary worked as a house lady for a family in Nanyuki for 28 years. During this time the lady she worked for taught her to sew and embroider then in late 2009 the lady left for the UK and Mary was made unemployed. She started working part time for Mitumba Art in early 2010.
Mary lives in nearby Likii Village and helps put her grandson through the local primary school, which although is free, costs in extras such as travel and accommodation have to be paid for every month. Mary is now very happy to have such a wonderful job and great work friends.