Sishemo is a group of 7 female artisans based in the Nakatindi community, Livingstone, Southern Zambia. Nakatindi borders the Mosi-oa-Tunya National park, home to many species of animals as well as the mighty Zambezi River and awe-inspiring Victoria Falls. Sishemo take discarded glass bottles from lodges, hotels and households across Livingstone, crush and fire the glass into handcrafted, unique beads using traditional techniques. These beads are then used to make one-of-a-kind necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other bead products sold from the Sishemo Studio in Nakatindi and other outlets in Livingstone, Lusaka and now through the ABANYA online store.
Sishemo’s artisans range from 21 to 65 years old, and collectively support over 40 family members and dependents, of which 14 are children. Employment opportunities in Nakatindi are extremely limited, particularly for women and for those who did not complete their education. Before Sishemo officially launched, 50% of our artisans reported regularly being unable to pay school fees for their children, and just 2 of the members completed their own secondary education due to lack of funding for school fees. Back in 2019, their households brought in an average of around $50 per month through informal piece work. As the owners and artisans of Sishemo Beads each of our members are now the breadwinners in their families and are able to work towards their future goals with a sustainable source of income.
Since 2018, the Sishemo have been working together to develop their small enterprise in partnership with Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP), a registered US-based NGO who support community development projects in locations across the world in association with Abercrombie & Kent, a global travel company. In 2018 AKP supported the costs of the initial skills training for Sishemo’s artisans - a master glass-bead maker from Ghana spent 3 months in Zambia with the Sishemo ladies teaching them the skills they would need to start their own glass bead-making enterprise. AKP also funded the construction costs of the Sishemo Studio in the heart of Nakatindi’s market square. Following this start-up support, Sishemo has been financially self-sufficient, using the income generated through product sales to fund the cost of their business as well as donating a portion of selected sales to local community and conservation projects.
In mid-March 2020 the Sishemo Studio was temporarily closed following the first confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Zambia. With the almost over-night loss of tourists, Sishemo lost their entire customer base and the business was suddenly put in an extremely vulnerable position. In early July 2020, the team resumed part-time work at the Studio and begun generating a minimal income. Sishemo have used this time to regroup and realign their business model to provide a more sustainable and resilient foundation for the future – this is how ABANYA was born. Together with Pure Skills, we developed the idea of a collaborative network of artisans and access to an international online marketplace into a reality!