Sophia’s Paper Beads

These paper bead necklaces are hanging from the tower that holds the water tank at Sophia Kea’s home. Sophia, along with the teenage girls and boys she employs, make all the paper bead jewelry e3Kids sells. Each of her paper bead creations are uniquely made, and it provides stable work for the young girls who would otherwise be married off at a young age and the boys who are unable to attend high school.

Sophia took me around her property in Msambweni, which is about 34 km south of Mombasa. Once the beads have been strung together and dipped in a varnish, they have to be taken outside to dry.  If she has a large order of jewelry, she also uses the wooden posts in the field below to hang them to dry.

But most of the paper bead making process takes place in her home. She’s lived in that house with her husband for fifteen years, but has been making these beads for five years.

Sophia and her husband, Bakari, are standing in her showroom. Bakari is actually the brother of Ngao, Royal Kids School’s founder. Once a piece is finished, she hangs it on this canvas board, or from the roof’s rafters.

At first, Sophia only employed girls who were about to be married off at a young age, whose families were hoping to be supported by the dowry they’d receive.  She’s just started employing boys who have finished eighth grade and whose families have no intention of supporting their education. She’s hopeful they’ll eventually get an opportunity to go to school, but in the mean time, they can come to a safe place to work and earn money.

And now for the bead making process. Mpate is in charge of cutting out the slips of recycled magazine paper that will be rolled into beads. Each slip is cut in the shape of a long, thin triangle.

The slips of paper are put into a central pile, and the rest gather around to roll them into beads. Mwanasiti is in the foreground, and Mwahindo’s hands are also rolling a bead. Mwanahamisi, pictured below, is still new to the art of paper bead rolling.

This is Mwanashe, one of the older girls who is now married. She has a young daughter that she named Sophie, after Sophia Kea.  Ali, looking at the camer below, is another boy who has recently finished eighth grade.  Once the beads are finished, they organize beads that need to be varnished, and have other bowls with varnished beads that can be turned into necklaces, bracelets, earrings, or bags.

And then the finished products end up in Sophia’s show room. I love that e3Kids is able to buy jewelry from her and sell them to support Royal Kids School. It’s such a simple way to support two great causes.


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