The Power of Returning

The Power of Returning

Their voices rise from below, down by the acacia tree where 20 something women are gathered, slowly moving toward us. Their rhythmic, tidal waves of singing meet us; their bobbing shoulders send beaded collars rising, rising, billowing. One woman grabs my hand and brings me into the surging of bodies and sound. I catch a quick glimpse of others in my group as hands reach out to them, as together we move like a wave down the dry hill, lapping around one another.

I feel hands begin to circle my waist. A young woman is wrapping a flaming red and golden cloth around me once, twice, swirling it around my shoulders and back, knotting it securely. I cannot stop dancing, the beat is inside me now, yet another woman takes my wrist and slips over it a beaded cuff with the word IBU splashed in pink and orange, along with red hearts, and as she did, I see that every person who came with me is receiving the same cuff over their hand.

Susan with Samburu Women

The singing is loud now, and happy, rising like an ocean around me. Another woman brings a long Samburu necklace to fit around my neck and while I am being robed, I look from one strong face to another through eyes swollen with tears. Their voices surge and crest, enveloping the whole. I don’t want it to ever stop. I take their hands, and raise them high into the air, surfing on joy. 

When we finally settle under the acacia tree, BeadWORKS director, Beatrice Lempaira, invites the beading stars to speak while she translates their stories of transformation. Meroni Leruso comes to the front and stands tall with a strong jaw, a level eye. Having found this company of women who support her, and work she loves as well; having put money in the bank and food on the table and her children in school, and having brokered a new partnership with her husband; Meroni says she is thinking now of running for public office in order to help other women find their strength. A few years ago, I could not have thought of speaking in front of you, she admits, so lacking in confidence and voice. But today she speaks with such clarity and force, it is impossible to imagine her silenced. From something as small as a bead, Meroni has crafted a life.
BeadWORKS artisans

When I was in Kenya last year, Saranto gave me a charge: go home and tell your friends about us. And so I did, and you, through the Ibu Foundation, sent toolkits for each of the 1,300 women in BeadWORKS—their beading offices, as they call them. And at Ibu, we developed new designs with them, sending increasing orders for our now signature necklace. But Saranto also added, promise you'll come back. And so I did, bringing 14 donors with me to meet these lit-up women in person. Before us all, Saranto rises to speak again. Many people come through and take pictures, buy a cuff, she says. But Susan came back, and brought all of you. And that makes all of the difference. 

BeadWORKS artisans


And so I learn again, more than anything we do, it’s our relationships that matters, the constancy across continents, beyond languages. It's the heart that moves the movement; it's why these women dance with joy and sing with wide open faces—and we with them. Women want to know that we are bound together in hope, that we will keep our promises, that we will come back.

And so we will. Always. We are all woven together now—you, me, the 1,300 powerful women who lift their song to life, to gratitude, to joy! We are woven together now, like the many beads which circle their gorgeous faces… and make them shine like light.

All the Best,