A housekeeper in Nairobi, Ruth Jepchirchir finds herself without a job when the American family for whom she works suddenly returns home. The same day, she meets Henriette Oldoff from the Netherlands, who asks if she might be interested in making products out of paper and mud? Yes begins a 9 year partnership making beauty out of waste. Soon they are inviting other women to join Ruth in her home, shredding paper, molding the earth, shaping beads, and stringing them into swish, smart jewelry.
Now, Ruth owns the thriving business. Henriette oversees designs and marketing, comes to Kenya to help at markets, stays in Ruth's home, becomes godmother to her youngest son. Two women from two hemispheres and two very different lives come together to form a whole world . . . in a bead.
One day, a friendly email pops up in my inbox from Henriette who, in the Netherlands, has learned of Ibu and writes to cheer us on. In passing, she mentions her work with Ruth, leaving the door slightly ajar. I can't resist wandering in. Tell me more, send me pictures . . .
This is how it sometimes happens. A relationship is threaded through emails. Our design team requests custom pieces to complement the Ibu collection. Soon, boxes of beads begin to arrive at the shop and in a nanosecond, are gone. We ask for more.
Ruth and Henriette call their enterprise Afrodutch, a shapely union of hemispheres, craft, business, design, income; and with it, food, hope, strength. How lucky for Ibu that we can offer a US market for this work so that more and more women in Kenya grow creatively into their independence.
Textural, light, bold, subtle, I hold these beads in my hand like small worlds threaded together. With all that divides us, I find myself wanting to point, for a moment, to two women, many hands, endless imagination. All in the service of the Oneness.
Susan Hull Walker