sets this institute apart from other training
colleges is that it emphasizes teaching the
traditional Swahili crafts; mainly in the
woodworking and tailoring fields.
crafts are world renown, and some of the most
popular cultural exports from the Kenyan Coast
are the 'kuchonga' (elaborate carving) style
furniture pieces that have graced homes and
magazine spreads alike.
Swahili furniture making is a dying craft and
to date no other institute has dedicated its
resources for the sole purpose of keeping the
Swahili aesthetic spirit alive.
Swahili Cultural Center was set up as a joint
effort between the National Museums of Kenya
and the International Labour Organization in
1993 as the training hub of future handwork
first Center was started in Mombasa and
another one was later opened in Lamu.
Center’s goal is simple, yet vital: to
provide hands-on woodwork and dressmaking
training in order to resuscitate a dying
this case, the life saving chest pump would
come in the form of micro-entrepreneurship.
step up from the local skills-training
colleges run by private parties, the Center
also teaches business management skills so as
to equip students with the conceptual know-how
of running their own businesses.
to funding and good management, the Swahili
Cultural Center flourished in the beginning.
many high school graduates, the Cultural
Center was a viable alternative to
universities and technical colleges because it
was affordable and relatively easy to get
men and women from various backgrounds
enrolled; chisels and needles in hand.
that attended the school had mainly wonderful
instructors were knowledgeable and helpful,
the classrooms were comfortable, and learning
tools and material were always available.
a discussion on the popular Mombasa Facebook
forum, ‘Mombasa-Toa Donge Lako’, last week
revealed that the Swahili Cultural Center has
not achieved the benchmarks of success that it
had set for itself.
is actually on the brink of being permanently
figures have been dismal to nil; no male
students are currently enrolled and there are
only 12 females taking the Embroidery and
on the cause of the Center’s downhill turn
graduates find it extremely difficult to set
up and successfully run their own businesses
stiff competition brought on by ready-made
furniture and clothing imports from
factories in the Far East
loss of potential students to lucrative jobs
in the Middle East.
solutions to this problem also vary: provide
bursaries, pump up enrollment through
aggressive advertising, provide a fertile
market in the West for goods produced by the
Center under the ‘Fair Trade’ banner ...
the proposals work?
Swahili Cultural Center faces an uphill battle
to keep its doors open. However, provided
there are proponents for the preservation of
the Swahili culture, hope lives on.