Barrett student Charlotte Deming’s GlobalResolve experience inspires Etsy shop featuring Maasai beadwork

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February 2, 2021

Charlotte Deming had never traveled outside of the United States when, as an engineering student in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus, she signed up for a GlobalResolve trip to Kenya in the summer of 2018.

“As it was my first time traveling, I was not completely sure what to expect. I had some people tell me that it was bold to be going to Kenya as my first traveling experience, though it was a chance to immerse myself in an entirely different culture from my own,” said Deming, who is from San Francisco, Calif.

In addition to exposure to another culture, Deming found friendship, purpose, and a new project working with the Maasai to promote their handicrafts online. 

Charlotte Deming

Charlotte Deming at an elephant sanctuary in Kenya (2018)

Deming graduated ASU last May with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering with a focus on robotics. She currently is completing her undergraduate thesis for honors from Barrett, The Honors College and has begun graduate studies in engineering at ASU Poly. 

GlobalResolve was established at ASU in 2006 as a social entrepreneurship program designed to enhance the educational experience for students by involving them in real-world projects that positively impact communities with needs around the world.

The idea for GlobalResolve grew out of a conversation in 2005 between four ASU professors who recognized the need for a multicultural, multidisciplinary approach - combining engineering, business, global studies and other disciplines - to encourage sustainable economic development in the Global South by helping solve water, health and energy problems with human-centered design solutions. GlobalResolve is now based within Barrett, The Honors College.

Deming spent a month that summer of 2018 with GlobalResolve in Kenya. The main project in Kenya is the GlobalResolve Maasai Automotive Education Center, which aims to build the first Maasai automotive education center in Maasailand to provide Maasai tour guides and community members with the workforce development and resources they need to repair tour vehicles and bring in revenue from automotive repair work. 

Deming, along with other students, made their summer home away from home in tents pitched at the Maasai Education, Research and Conservation Institute (MERC) located on 10 acres in the southern Rift Valley, bordering the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve. 

She assisted with developing a water filtration system and building shelving for the library at the automotive center and spent a lot of time learning about the Maasai people and their culture.

She noted the unique and colorful handmade Maasai beadwork that was sold at the MERC and began thinking about how it could be marketed more widely. 

“As I learned more about how much their livelihood is supported by the sales of their handmade goods, it seemed pertinent that they should be able to sell these to more than the people visiting a very specific center in Kenya,” Deming said. 

“The artwork they create is beautiful,” she said of the items sold mostly by Maasai women.

“Keiwua, the shop owner, selects women who do not have as much access to the tourism industry as a way to help them make an income. Being very familiar with Etsy, I suggested the idea of helping the MERC create an Etsy shop where those items would be available globally, increasing the market to a more global scale, hopefully enabling the women to make more income to support themselves and their families,” Deming explained.

Charlotte Deming

Charlotte Deming with Sintamei at Maasai wedding (2018)

After Deming’s summer 2018 GlobalResolve stint in Kenya wound up and she returned to Arizona, she continued to pursue the idea of creating an Etsy shop for Maasai beadwork. 

She returned to Kenya in the summer of 2019 for another month with GlobalResolve and focused on further developing a Maasai-MERC Etsy shop.

She has continued working on the project, writing a business plan and collaborating with the MERC to photograph and write descriptions for items that will be offered on Etsy. 

“I worked with cultural leaders to learn the Maa (the language of the Maasai) names for many of the items being sold as well as their cultural significance, as many of the items have ceremonial or historical meaning,” she said. 

Deming plans to have the Maasai Etsy shop, which will be called Naretoi Maa Jewelry, online by May. Naretoi means “helping each other” in the Maa language. Beaded items such as necklaces, shoes, bracelets, bowls and pots will be available on the site. 

The Maasai Etsy project has taken on added significance in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

“The Maasai rely very heavily on tourism as a way of life. From selling their handmade wares to Safari tours. Especially with COVID, which includes travel restrictions, the Maasai people are struggling to get through the pandemic, as their primary source of income has been shot,” Deming said. 

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