At Vikapu Bomba, we are fortunate to be working with some truly incredible Mamas, from one of our youngest artisans Ajina Mkakatu (22) all the way to the Bibis (grandmothers) like Zaina Kilovele who do not remember how old they are. Each Mama has her own very unique story which can be read on her personal label attached to every product she made. Since you probably won't be able to buy a product from each Mama, we wanted to share some more general stories of the Mamas' lives in the rural communities in the Tanzanian southern highlands.
It is incredible the amount of work the Mamas do and the responsibilities they carry on their shoulders. Many of them wake up around 4am (some even earlier) to start weaving. A big challenge is that there is no electricity in the communities, so they mostly use kerosene lamps for light. A number of Mamas were able to invest in small solar panels which they use to power a bulb in the house. Almost all Mamas have their own children and also provide for several grandchildren.
Before the kids wake up, the Mamas make a fire over a traditional three stone fireplace in the 'kitchen house' to prepare breakfast and tea. Once the children are off to school, it is time to sweep the house inside and outside before heading out to tend the farm. Farming usually happens in the morning when the sun is not too intense yet. The farms of the Mamas are often a long distance from home. Some of them walk over an hour to get there. With the income security provided by Vikapu Bomba, many Mamas mostly farm maize, beans and some other vegetables for food. However, some of them actually invested parts of their income into expanding their agricultural production so they can sell ever increasing harvest surpluses in the local market.
Once the sun rises straight overhead, the Mamas finish up their farming and collect some firewood from the area surrounding their farm. They then carry the often heavy loads of firewood on their heads on their long way back to the village. Then it is time to prepare lunch which is often the local 'ugali' maize porridge with some vegetables and beans. After lunch many Mamas take a well deserved rest within the cool walls of their traditional brick house.
The afternoons are often spent weaving or tending to other business activities. For example, Erica Mazika, one of the artisans from the Njombe Region, opened up a salon and cuts/braids peoples' hair in the afternoon.
Once the children come home from school, the Mamas often go with them to fetch water for drinking, washing and cooking. Depending on the village, the only source of water is a river or stream which is often located at the bottom of steep little valleys. This means that the Mamas and their children have to carry the heavy 20 liter water buckets on their heads, up a steep muddy hill. Again, depending on the location of the house, a Mama will often walk 20 or more minutes to and from the river.
After returning from the river or public water tap, the Mamas prepare dinner. In the past, they would then go to bed relatively early around 8pm as the sun sets around 630pm throughout the year. But now that they are guaranteed to be able to sell their baskets through Vikapu Bomba, many of the Mamas go straight back to weaving after dinner. During our interviews with them, many Mamas mentioned that they weave until 10pm, some even until midnight.
So, the Mamas are truly incredible. Most of them carry out all these tasks completely by themselves. This makes a large majority of all Vikapu Bomba Mamas the sole breadwinner in their households. The Mamas not only work hard, but they also use their income very responsibly. Many of them invest parts of their weaving income in local savings groups. This enables them to have money available when they need it most to pay for school or to purchase agricultural inputs for the new planting season.
For all these reasons, we think that the Vikapu Bomba Mamas are amazing and we feel fortunate to be able to work with them!