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Graphic designer links women refugee artisans to global markets

Visual Arts

Graphic designer links women refugee artisans to global markets

Tuesday May 16 2023

Goodie Odhiambo with Barni Ali Mohaned, one of the women members of Nyota Farsamo, with carpet made at Daddab. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Goodie Odhiambo has earned her name many times over since she completed a degree from Kenyatta University in graphic design.

She started by setting up her own artisanal shop and naming it after herself. After that, she went scouting around Nairobi and beyond looking for the best artisans she could find.

She wanted to fill her store with everything from handmade jewellery and furniture to a whole range of items generally described as interior décor.

But she was only interested in décor that was indigenous, created by Kenyans.

The main challenge she found straight away was that most of the crafts being made were not ‘quality controlled’ in the sense that no one was critiquing the works to improve their quality, finish and overall design.

So, almost immediately, Goodie found herself giving away free design ideas to assist the artisans to upgrade the quality of their crafts.

The main idea was to make them more attractive to a wider commercial audience and market.

Most likely, her injection of quality control and fresh ideas is what attracted the International Trade Centre to get in touch with Goodie back in 2018.

That and the fact that the main artisans that Goodie wanted to work with were women.

“ITC invited me to work with them to assist women artisans in the Dadaab Refugee Camp,” Goodie tells BDLife when we went to meet the artisans and ITC representatives recently.

Initially, she hesitated to get involved, she admits. She had never been to Dadaab; nor had she ever worked with refugees.

But she quickly got over her angst once she went up to the camp and met women like Fatuma, one of the women leaders who inspired her to get straight to work with the Somali women.

She could see there would be challenges, especially as many of the women had basic skills and education, but once they were married, they had been discouraged to further their studies and encouraged instead to be homebodies, having and caring for their children.

“Initially, some of the women expected handouts, since that is what many of the NGOs do. But that is not what ITC does,” says Halkano Jillo Boru, Goodie’s assistant who works closely with the women up at the camp and at Goodie’s shop in Kilimani.

“ITC prefers to teach people to fish, rather than hand out free fish,” he adds.

Goodie explains that as soon as she was able to identify women from all five sectors of the camp, she worked with ITC to do a feasibility study.

“That’s how we recognized to what degree the women required skills training to upgrade their capacity to create crafts that would meet market standards and exceed what gets sold at places like the Maasai Markets around Nairobi,” says Goodie.


Members of Nyota Farsamo (left) Gina Siya (right) and Barni Ali Mohamed. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Since meeting Fatuma in 2018, she has mentored more women than she can count.

“We have also seen Fatuma mentor even more women, training trainers as well as the artisans themselves,” she adds.

Now Goodie’s shop is filled with Dadaab women’s mats, baskets, and bowls.

“But to advance their brand we had to create a name. We deliberated together and came up with Nyota Farsamo. But that came after we voted democratically and came up first with Nyota, which in Kiswahili means star, and Farsamo, which in Somali means artisan. So, the women named themselves Star Artisans,” Goodie adds.

Mostly, the women work from the camp, but occasionally, they come down to Nairobi as they did recently. They came specifically to meet ITC’s Executive Director, Pamela Hamilton-Coke who is currently making a tour of East Africa. She was also travelling to Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda.

But she started off her journey from Geneva, which is ITC’s home base, by landing in Nairobi.

It was primarily to meet Goodie and Fatuma and the other women artisans who are making Nyota Farsamo such a success.

Ms Hamilton-Coke, who is originally from Jamaica, was accompanied by Mai Nishkhan Usnyapant, who is also based in Geneva and serves as a program development director with the Refugee Empowerment Through Markets Initiative.

All of them converged at Goodie’s, including two of Fatuma’s workmates and Nyota Farsamo members, Barni Ali Mohamed and Gina Siyad.

Also affiliated with the group is Mohamed Omar Hassan who works on the digital side of Nyota, setting up a website for them as well as an Instagram page for Nyota too.

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