Nyabigena Soapstone Carvers is a cooperative in western Kenya that works to provide a solid income for its artisans and end poverty in the communities where they live. The organization was founded in 1989 with a desire to maximize the earning potential for the skilled artisans by eliminating the middlemen.
Nyabigena Soapstone Carvers is based in the city of Kisii, which is surrounded by large deposits of soapstone. This soft rock, made largely of talc, is easy to carve. Soapstone was primarily used for domestic products, like baskets and pottery. However, it became popular as a medium for art carvings in the late 20th century. With the rise of fair trade organizations and a growing desire for global art forms, the soapstone carvings from the people around Kisii became more in demand.
About 150 carvers are supported through the cooperative’s efforts. All of the work is done by hand; no elaborate machinery or technology is employed. They work from hand-drawn designs, taking their chisels, small picks and other tools to the stone.
Nyabigena started a tree seedling nursery to provide trees to the communities where their carvers live, and it formed an elementary school to educate students, all with proceeds from the sale of the soapstone carvings. It also offers management training, educational opportunities for widows and orphans, and health and nutrition education.
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*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.