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Kenyan soapstone, known as ‘kisii,’ is found in the country’s fertile western Tabaka hills, one of the most densely populated areas in Kenya. Here, income from kisii soapstone carving helps ensure that families have shelter over their heads and hope for the future.
A forty-two-year-old father of five, Robert Ombasa learned the skills of the trade from his father, a professional carver, but it is his connection with the Fair Trade world that has allowed him to successfully grow his family business.
He says, “Soapstone carving is our mainstay and Fair Trade guarantees sustainable work that makes a big difference in our livelihood. My family is still young and I hope that I can continue to provide for their basic necessities and also build a better future for my old age.”
Ombasa leads a team of five carvers and three finishers. He has been producing soapstone carvings for over fifteen years now.
Traditionally, entire families are involved in the process. Men do the carving, using a large knife to form the rough shapes and a smaller knife for the intricate details. Once the sculptures have been sanded smooth, the women take over, washing, drying and waxing the pieces to create a lustrous finish.
In Kenya, the creation of kisii stonework enables families to earn an income, build permanent homes, improve plots of land and send their children to school. Soapstone carving is the primary source of income for some 15,000 families residing in the Tabaka hills.