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Joyce Tannian of Water Is Life Kenya shows students some of the items that are made by Maasai women participating in the nonprofit organization's program.
For fashion merchandising major Maria
Finnegan of Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, her Merchandise Planning
course this semester is providing the opportunity to add a philanthropic
aspect to what could have been a typical class project.
Students in the FASH330 class, led by Abigail Clarke-Sather, assistant professor in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies,
are given a semester-long project in which they calculate selling
percentages, price margins, monthly sales and more, while working
closely with and making final recommendations to real companies.
But not all the real-world opportunities being offered to students are with retail businesses. One is Water Is Life Kenya
(WILK), a small nonprofit organization dedicated to working with Kenyan
communities to help them get access to clean water, generate income and
Joyce Tannian, WILKs founder and executive director, spoke to the
class on Monday, March 14, about her firsthand experience with the
Maasai community in southern Kenya, located near Mount Kilimanjaro.
Tannian explained the importance of infrastructure projects such as
pipelines and rainwater harvesting, which help women and girls avoid
making 10- to 15-mile journeys to the nearest water points and then
carrying the water on their backs all the way home.
Working with WILK, Tannian said, Maasai women create homemade jewelry
and beadwork from waste paper, earning income for their families. The
women are paid higher wages than average in Kenya and often use that
money to help pay for their childrens schooling and household
In turn, the organization uses profits from the business to construct
infrastructure that provides more people with access to water near
their homes in remote areas.
The jewelry work has been so successful that the womens company
reached a deal with Disney from 2011-15, where the latter bought
hundreds of thousands of paper beads in bulk.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Fashion merchandising students examine some of the beadwork that Maasai women in Kenya create from recycled waste paper.
Expired maps, cruise line brochures, princess initiations all this
paper being stored in warehouses can be converted into paper beads,
Tannian explained to the students.
Tannian also showed the different types of jewelry and beadwork,
including bracelets, handbags and necklaces, as well as lanyards that
were used by U.S. Embassy employees to hold their ID badges. While these
crafts are beautifully decorated, there are challenges when it comes to
design errors, she said.
Im dealing with ladies that are always super proud of their work,
so it can be a challenge to ask for revisions or changes, Tannian told
The project will allow the FASH330 students to develop pricing
methods and analyze competitors, giving the students who chose Water Is
Life Kenya for their project additional firsthand experience with the
I was really excited for Joyce to speak to our class about the
company, Finnegan said. I am really looking forward to the pricing
project, as it will not only help me in my field of study but also has
the potential to help Water Is Life Kenya grow.
Senior fashion merchandising major Kathleen DiBari, from Pennsauken,
New Jersey, also called the opportunity an exciting one, especially
because of the potential benefits to the Maasai community. The
nonprofit, she said, not only provides people with clean water, but the
organization also helps many women pay for their childrens
Water Is Life Kenya is also holding a fundraiser on Saturday, April
23, when it hosts the second annual Water Walk at the Newark Reservoir
off Old Paper Mill Road near the UD campus. The walk-athon will raise
money for clean water projects in Kenya.