Mar 17

Seeing Firsthand The Growth of Education in our TLC Community

Hi, I’m Kathy, part of the US-based TLC team that visited our Kenya operations in March.

My Kenyan colleague Anne and I spent a day visiting Oltumusoi Primary School which serves the local Maasai community. In the 10 years since the school began with a handful of students, it has now grown to 200+ students. Through the sales of our Beads for Learning bracelets, The Leakey Collection pays for teacher salaries at the school. This year we are funding 5 of the 15 teachers.

kathy and anne

In Kenya, parents must pay tuition fees for each child to attend school. The students standing in this class all have parents who work for The Leakey Collection. Earning money so their children can attend school is the top financial motivation for most of our women artisans.

TLC parents

Almost all of the children are the first generation in their families to learn to read or attend school. In this 8th grade class, I asked if any of their parents had attended school and only this single boy stood up. The children are taught in English and Swahili and are trilingual (including their mother language of Maa) by primary graduation.

young man whose parent went to school

The challenge of balancing traditional gender roles with preparing for a changing future makes it especially difficult to keep girls in school as they become teenagers. Our Beads for Girls Graduation bracelets fund mentorship programs to support girls in pursuing their educational goals.

young girl

In the upper grades I said a few words to the girls, reinforcing that they are just as capable as the boys to continue on to secondary school (equivalent to our high school) and even a university. They were surprised to hear that more women than men attend universities in the US.

addressing class

Children as young as 4 can begin attending the pre-school class where they become familiar with the learning environment. Here they sing Heads-Shoulders-Knees-and-Toes, a song that unites children across the globe.


We walked home with the lower primary students who are dismissed after the school-provided lunch. These young children walk 8-10 miles each day to attend school. Truly inspirational!

walking home

Mar 15

Read Across America Day

Monday, March 2nd is Dr. Seuss’ birthday and “Read Across America” Day. We have long believed in the power of reading and education, and this charming video about the 90-year-old Kenyan woman who is attending school grabbed our attention and our hearts! Click the link below to hear the story about this truly inspirational woman and then continue reading to find out how it relates to what The Leakey Collection is doing!


90 year old Kenyan woman attends school

“I want to say to the children of the world, especially girls, that education will be your wealth.”  Priscilla “Gogo” Sitienei

“Gogo” embodies one of our goals: the empowerment of girls and women through education. Our highly successful Beads for Learning Bracelets have improved education for children in rural East Africa. And now, we are so excited to introduce a brand new bracelet to raise awareness and funds specifically for girls:  Beads for Girls Graduation.

Young girls tend to drop out of school before completing their primary education. The Leakey Collection will dedicate proceeds from the sale of these bracelets to our Girls Graduation mentorship program, counseling young teens to keep them on track towards graduation. We will also allocate money to a girls’ scholarship fund.

These bracelets will be in our partner stores this month and are now on our website. Ask your favorite store if they’ve ordered theirs yet. Together, we can Make a Better World!

Happy reading!


Oct 13

From The Mouths of Babes

Recently, we were contacted by a first grade class at The Manhattan New School, PS 290 for a donation. They were learning about child labor and planned to culminate the project with a Fair Trade Sale.classroomNot only were we proud to hear that such young people were so motivated to help others by donating the proceeds to help workers around the world, but we were DELIGHTED to receive a letter of thanks, along with their newsletter entitled PLEASE, MAKE IT FAIR in which the children explained what was “BAD” about what they learned. Please watch our Facebook page and Twitter over the next couple of weeks as we share with you words of wisdom from our young friends. Here’s a little preview of what one of those sweet children thought about child labor:

Kids sewing 14 hours a day, that’s so terrible. They want to run away, but the bosses would give them a beating. Waaaaaa!

And now, read portions of the introduction from their teacher and a note from a parent helper:

Introduction  As we learned how cupcakes are made for restaurants, we found out that there is a lot of child labor in the production of vanilla. When we did research about chocolate, we found out that most cacao for chocolate sold in the USA was produced in Cote d’Ivoire, where 200,000 children do the work. At least 12,000 of those children are trafficked…….

Note from Newsletter Parent  All proceeds from our Fair Trade sale & raffle will be donated to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.…..(it) strives to end child labor which, as you can tell by our words and pictures, we feel VERY strongly about! (these words & pictures will be what The Leakey Collection will be posting on social media)….we hope the next time you visit a grocery store, you will look for Fair Trade items like bananas, and of course, chocolate. Here are some of the Fair Trade labels you might see…children's fair trade symbolsAnd of course, we at The Leakey Collection also encourage you to look for these Fair Trade labels wherever you shop!

May 13

Honoring Teachers Across the Nation and the Globe

Today is National Teacher Day, and we want to honor all teachers, even those across the globe.DSCN3604

Over the past month, we have been thrilled to see just how many families in the United States appreciate the teachers in their lives and have chosen to thank them with a gift of Beads for Learning Bracelets!  This gift has been doubly valuable as it not only shows honor to the recipient but has benefited the school children in East Africa immensely. The profit from these bracelets goes directly to fund teachers’ salaries in rural Africa and to improve education there.  Thanks in part to a wonderful article in Kiwi Magazine, we have sold more than 555 Beads for Learning Bracelets at www.leakeycollection.com in less than a month.


Read what Katy Leakey says:

TLC: Education is obviously very important to The Leakey Collection.  What changes have you seen since the inception of the Beads for Learning program?

Katy: Not only have the extra teachers reduced the student teacher ratio, but parents are seeing an improvement in their children’s performance.  Parents have also been able to send more than one child to school.  As a result, we are seeing more girls receive an education.

TLC: What is the current ratio of students per teacher near you?

Katy: It is now between 35 & 40:1 whereas when we started, it was 80-1.

TLC: What are the future plans for teachers/education because of the contributions from TLC?

Katy: Any new teachers will have higher qualifications.  In time, we will work with existing teachers to improve their skills.

TLC: Did you have a special teacher in your life?  If so, what made them special?

Katy: My 4th grade teacher was the head librarian.  She let me work in the library putting books back on the shelves, and I fell in love from that first moment with books, libraries, and the vast, mysterious, adventurous, far-reaching world through the written word.  I was forever “hooked,” and still am, on books and libraries.  As an artist, I create illuminated pages, and when I trace back to my first seeds of passion for the magic of books, it began with the lovely, shy, retiring woman (whose name escapes me some 48 years later) who let me roam the narrow library aisles in the small grammar school in my hometown.


Sep 11

How Bracelets are Educating Kids

We introduced Beads for Learning less than a year ago. At that time, there were a total of 4 teachers in the remote bush where we reside. At that time the ratio of student to teachers was 80:1, with a wide range of ages in each classroom.  Today we are thrilled to announce that because of your support of the Beads for Learning Bracelets, we have been able to employ another 5 teachers.  This brings the total to 9 and classroom sizes have been cut in half.

World Teachers’ Day is held annually on October 5th. We know how important teachers are for the future of our children in Kenya and hope that you will continue to share our program and show your appreciation to all teachers by thanking them for their service.

Click here Beads for Learning to learn more.



Jan 11

The Leakey Collection made possible by you!

I still remember vividly the orders we had collected from our first trade show and the response when we told everyone the news.

Excerpt from a letter to family

“We had called Sabit with the good news, and word quickly reached everyone here in the valley that we were returning from America with many orders taken at our first trade show.  As we drove up our steep, rocky rive this afternoon, we were greeted by lines of people, beginning with our core staff - Sabit, Tobico, Kawia, Motisia, Ludo, Kasinga and Mr. Sang - followed by several hundred women.  All were singing and clapping as we drove through the crowd.  As each one lined up, most had tears in their eyes, to shake our hands and to personally thank us for the work we brought.

We invited everyone to the veranda and showed them pictures. I could feel the warmth, and I couldn’t wait to pass it along to all of you, our dear family and friends, who worked so hard and gave so much in so many ways. I wished I could paint a picture to capture the joy and warmth that comes from seeing such pure expressions of appreciation, having their efforts rewarded.”

Much has changed since that first order, and over the years you have helped to:

Build classrooms and hire more teachers, improving the quality of education for over 700 children.

Classroom in Kenya

Nore Teachers in Kenya

Improve the overall health of over 6,000 people, saving many women’s and children’s lives through immunizations, paying for necessary operations, training thirty midwives and health care workers and bringing a stop to malnutrition.

Immunizations for children in Kenya

And because we harvest the grass used to make  Zulugrass Jewelry, replacing the action of burning it to assist cattle in reaching the tender grass,  you have helped us save the wetlands and restore natural habitats.

From a need, we planted a seed that has grown over these years and has spread because of your generosity, commitment and partnership to make a difference in the world. So, if you ask yourself if you are making a difference, you can proudly say I AM .


Nov 10

Bead for Learning-Teachers Choice for the Holidays

Beads for LearningWisconsin Mommy included our Beads for Learning in her Holiday Gift Guide. “Suitable for: The socially conscious person on your list. It also makes a great teacher gift!!”  Bravo!

Nov 10

Who is Flower Power Jon?

zullugrass flower powerIt was about 7 years ago at the San Francisco trade show that we met Jon. He owns a store called Flower Power, located in west Marin County. Jon moved to California in 1969 after six years of working on Madison Avenue as art director in a few New York ad agencies (think Mad Men!).  He continued his career in San Francisco ad agencies until he retired in 1997.  He bought the store in West Marin county and remodeled it but kept the name because of the  “throwback” reference to the 60′s. The shop is a home and garden boutique that carries an array of eclectic  decor and gift  items as well as flowers and plants.  The store has a garden area with statues, furniture, fountains  and unique finds.

Jon was first attracted to Zulugrass because of its sheer beauty. “It knocked me out how beautiful the strands were when I saw them at the Gift Show,” he said.  It was Jon’s very first purchase for his new store.  He wanted to replicate the look we had in our booth so he filled 5 t-bars full of Zulugrass. He told me that “Zulugrass is like cat-nip for women.“  We loved his quote and have used it for years!!!

Customers that visit Flower Power have become so familiar with Zulugrass. They are attracted to its beauty and versatility. Quite a few of his regular customers buy more each time they come, for themselves and for friends.  One customer who shops at  Flower Power described  her experience, “the second you walk in, your olfactory glands are content. Beautiful, odd flowers are everywhere. They also have fun and very beautiful housewares. I found the most ADORABLE book,  How to Garden Anywhere, and I have read it front-to-back twice since I got it last weekend. The back patio is completely zen… I just want to grab a lawn chair and take a nap,” she said.   Flower Power has several raving reviews .

Flower Power at Point Reyes Station

We recently caught up with Jon, who bought our most recent product line Beads for Learning Bracelets that educate kids. 100% of the profits from the sale of these bracelets supports teachers’ salaries in the bush along the East Rift Valley.  Which brings me to Jon.  He was so inspired by the concept of this product that he donates his profits from the sale of these bracelets to the local West Marin school.   Buy bracelets, educate kids in the bush AND locally.  We are so grateful for John’s support over the years, and his brilliant idea of taking it a step further by supporting a school in his area, shows you how much Flower Power… Jon really has.

Oct 10

Nice little review from Monique

"I AM Monique"

Monique is an author and a Mom of two who knows how to really stretch a dollar on one income. Her latest review of our jewelry has a fantastic picture of our Beads for Learning.  Bracelets made by Mommies to educate their kids. Love it!

Oct 10

Education…the key to so much promise

Cultures from around the world have always interested me from a very young age.  When I turned eight, my parents co-founded the Leakey Foundation to support the work of Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey in East Africa. Their work in Paleoanthropology and Archeology inspired my generation to view mankind in a new way.   In the early years, the foundation operated from our home.  My parents installed extra phone lines, and soon the house was filled with casts of bones, stacks of paperwork and volunteers. Louis and Mary would stay with us, and in one of Louis’ books,  he even refers to our home as “Nairobi West”.

By the time I was a young teen, I was babysitting Jane Goodall’s son, Grub, and soon after that, I was driving the Leakeys to their lecture engagements.  I used to sit and listen to scientists from all around the world talking about mankind and cultures in far off places, which set the tone for both my art and my curiosity about life in different cultures.

But as many differences as we think we might have, there are similarities we all share. Our culture at The Leakey Collection is all about women helping women and creating a bridge that connects you with women in Kenya, who like many of you, send their children off to school each morning.

A mother’s day in Kenya begins around 5:30 in the morning when she wakes to stoke the fire to prepare  hot tea, served with milk and sugar. She then makes breakfast of porridge with lemon and salt, preparing her children for their walk to school which starts at 8:00 A.M.

On the way to school, each child will pick up one stick to contribute to the cooking fire for a lunch time meal of hot maize.

The education curriculum consists of  math, science, religious studies, English, Swahili and civics, which is quite similar to American civic classes.  In the rural areas of Kenya, chalk is found in the wild and used on homemade chalk boards (a piece of plywood painted with chalkboard paint).  All children are given exercise books, and the government provides the subject books when they can.   Not all schools have access to these books and certainly not for every pupil. For budgetary reasons, pencils without erasers are the only tools used. No protractors, rulers or other school supplies are available. We don’t have access to computers in the rural part of Kenya.   Only private schools offer computer science classes for upper classmen, ages 13 to 17.

School children in Kenya

The children have breaks for playing such games as football (American soccer) with homemade balls made from bits of plastic wrapped with torn cloth.  After school,  teams will play against each other during football season, which tends to be  much of the year because of our climate.

The school year begins in January instead of September.  It runs a full year with 3 month-long breaks; the first around Easter, the second in August and the last in December. We have Primary School for ages 7 to 12 and Secondary School for ages 13-17.  Secondary School is 4 years and referred to as Form 1, Form 2, Form 3 and Form 4.

Teacher student ratios are very high, usually 1 teacher per 75 students. We  hope to lower that ratio to improve the quality of the learning conditions in the classroom. More teachers give struggling students more attention.

classroom in Kenya

Our Beads for Learning Bracelets have been wildly popular thanks to you, and we hope that continues.  These bracelets are the creation of a mother’s love to educate her children.

If you want to thank a teacher for the impact they’ve made on your life or someone you know,  tell us here for your chance to win a gift that provides a gift when you share it with others - two Beads for Learning Bracelets.  Meanwhile, I will be wearing mine at my next tea with the ladies.

Katy's friends


Katy & Philip Leakey live in the East Rift Valley, Kenya next to their neighbors, the Maasai.  To find out more about the Leakey’s and their mission to make the world a better place, check out their story here.