As we highlight women's contributions to contemporary society this Women's History Month, we would be remiss if we didn't introduce you to Veronica Selena, an educator, and entrepreneur who is passionate about community development.
For over 14 years, Veronica Selena worked as an early-education teacher in the small town of Kimuka, where she was born and raised. A fall and the resulting back injury put her teaching career on hold. Stuck at home, unable to stand for extended periods, Veronica desperately needed a source of income. As a young girl, her mother had taught her how to bead as a form of adornment, and Veronica turned to this age-old Maasai skill and tradition to support herself and her four children.
As her back healed, she traveled weekly to Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, to sell her work at open-air markets. And once she had completely recovered, she began traveling from town to town with a backpack full of beaded bracelets, necklaces, and belts. "The most challenging thing in beadwork is marketing," she explains. It was on one of her circuits in 2012 that she met Ubuntu co-founders Jeremiah Kuria and Zane Wilemon in Maai Mahiu.
Veronica introduced Jeremiah and Zane to her Maasai community, heritage beading groups, and elders in the Maasai community in the vibrant and energetic fashion that is hers, complete with long meandering drives where the destination was always much, much further than she’d said. Asked to describe these early days, Zane says simply with a laugh, "it was an adventure!". Veronica went on to recruit 800 + Maasai women to make beaded bracelets for Ubuntu Life. Her contribution didn't stop there: "She told us where to source beads, string and sewing needles, and leather," Jeremiah recounts. The first beaded bracelets the Maasai Mums made for Ubuntu were thick beaded cuffs and our signature LOVE bracelets.
Ever the master of reinvention, when Ubuntu Life's beading network was firmly established, Veronica returned to her many entrepreneurial ventures and her passion for supporting her community. For years, she has coordinated volunteers building schools and housing through VICDA (the Volunteer International Community Development Africa), going so far as to host them in her small house. She was instrumental in bringing running water to her home township Kimuka and in 2006, its electrification. Today she works as a real estate agent, and while Veronica no longer does any beadwork herself, she passed the skill on to her first-born daughter, Isele. Last year, Isele joined the Ubuntu Life team as an area manager coordinating nine Maasai Maker Mums groups, each with an average membership of 90 women beaders.
Fluent in English, Kiswahili, and Maa, Isele flits effortlessly between languages, speaking to Maasai Maker Mum's in Maa and a mix of Kiswahili and English with everyone else. Having studied Community Development at a university in Nairobi, Isele is the embodiment of her mother's hopes and dreams and a shining beacon of what the future holds for her community.
Veronica's life and experience are a testament that when opportunities are created for women, they lift up their communities as they lift up themselves. On behalf of the Ubuntu Life team, this Women's History Month and always, we thank Veronica for her contributions to our community and hers! We are all the better for it.