In response to the poverty and joblessness among Deaf people in Kenya, an organization called the D.O.O.R. International (Deaf Opportunity OutReach), took the initiative and founded Sasa Designs by the Deaf. This social enterprise has paved a new way to provide dignified and empowered work opportunities to Deaf women who can now earn a solid income and celebrate their potential through the production of handcrafted jewelry. Their new spring line is gorgeous, inspired by Kenya’s land and people, and utilizes glass, brass, bone, and leather to create a versatile collection. Their mission is to turn ordinary jewelry into catalysts for change.
Director Megan MacDonald states, “Sasa was founded after DOOR queried many of the women to find out what type of work they would be interested in doing, and the women expressed enthusiasm in learning jewelry skills. We estimate that the Deaf face 85% unemployment rates, and the majority of Deaf women are limited to cleaning houses and serving other families for income, where they are often mistreated. Additionally, many have experienced abandonment by partners and husbands and face supporting themselves and their children as single moms.”
Sasa works with artisans who have dealt with a great deal of discrimination as Deaf women. “As children, not all were born Deaf, but regardless of when they lost their hearing—it was often years before they had the opportunity to attend Deaf school and learn to communicate in sign language. Because there are not sufficient jobs in Kenya, these women are considered a drain on family resources, and mistakenly presumed to be ‘stupid’ or mentally disabled. At Sasa, we explore the natural resilience's and skills these women have developed in order to communicate and support their families, while adding value by providing training. They are like sponges soaking up every opportunity that we are able to extend, and now that we have been working with many of them for a couple of years, the women are really starting to take the initiative on design and leadership within the group. It's wonderful to be a part of!”
As one can imagine, the list of challenges, discrimination, and misinformation when it comes to the capacity of Deaf people runs long. “Beyond these painful experiences and the damage they cause emotionally and financially, the Deaf women experience day to day life in the hearing community with very little ability to receive information in a way that they can fully understand. From simple things like shopping for food and goods, to more complex community issues like their education and church life, they never quite get the full picture from the hearing community."
“Sasa Designs by the Deaf works to honor our staff by creating a sustainable, market-ready organization that can participate in global commerce, just as any other small business does. While we share the story of our artisans in order to educate their customers about their plight and the challenges they have faced, we believe that Deaf women are capable and ready to work and earn a living just as any other person is. We focus on empowerment and equality, not charity and sob-stories. The transformation we see in our team, who arrive as discriminated women and fast become income-earners and leaders (both at work and in their community) is profound. Our greatest joy is seeing these women feel a sense of joy and happiness, and the joy and confidence it breeds in them.”
This August, Sasa Designs by the Deaf will be attending Artisan Resource at NY NOW as a way to build their base to accommodate large-scale production and partnerships with major brands as a wholesale producer. Artisan Resource is a wonderful sourcing platform, which runs in alignment with the New York International Gift Fair and is a one stop shop for volume buyers interested in artisanal craft. “This show is a great fit because we are a small business and generally focus the bulk of our energy on training programs. With this being said, we don't have a huge budget or staff for marketing. We also seek to adapt to today's trends with a very price-competitive product, so that buyers do not feel like they have to choose between what sells and responsibly-produced goods. AR is a great opportunity to put our product and story out there, and demonstrate our ability to buyers who demand quality and are willing to expand their sourcing horizons into Africa and a community that, despite their special needs as individuals, is ready to be represented in the global marketplace.”