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Handcarved Soapstone Supports AIDS Orphans

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Above: Mohr & McPherson’s store manager Karole Moe with students at the Okari School in Kinsii, Kenya.

Margaret Okari started taking in orphaned children when the AIDS pandemic hit Africa. She knew these children would thrive with education and the right advocates, so she searched for sponsors and boarding schools that would take the orphans in. As the number of orphans increased, so did Margaret’s dedication and ideas. Unfortunately Margaret died of hepatitis, but her sister Kwamboka continued to work towards their shared vision.

During the AIDS pandemic, Kwamboka Okari lived in America, importing soapstone from Kenya and selling it in upscale boutiques. Many of the soapstone carvers began to die, leaving orphans behind. Because of her work, Kwamboka was acquainted with the workers families and she used her network in America to help Margaret support and advocate for the children.

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Soapstone carvers at work on The Okari School campus. This tiny chair was carved for Karole to resemble the life-size one at the work site.

After seeing the success of the children who the Okari sisters had helped, the town of Kisii Kenya donated 5 acres of land to build a school, primarily for children who lost their parents to AIDS. They built classrooms, two dorms, and a dining hall. Today, the Margaret Okari Children’s School provides 200 orphans with a home and an education. Although there are many programs dedicated to helping orphans in Africa, the Okari School stands out because of its effort in providing a sustainable future to the children. They do this through a focus on education, health & human services, leadership and sustainability.

Our store manager, Karole Moe, spent time in Kenya, working as a teacher at the Okari School. The  school supports the local carvers by exporting their work and using the profit to support the school. We are lucky enough to sell a number of soapstone carvings at Mohr & McPherson.

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People have been working with soapstone for three millennia. It is a pliable stone used for carving and decorations. This art started in Asia – mainly China – and spread through the rest of the world from there. In ancient Greece, the Cretans used soapstone to make stamps and receptacles. The vikings used soapstone carvings in their jewelry. In Africa, Zimbabwe is known for producing many large soapstone sculptures. The height of Zimbabwe’s soapstone production was between the 11th and 16th centuries. Europeans began using soapstone in the 17th century, and the material became most popular during the Art Deco period between the 1920’s and 1940’s.

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Soapstone figurines,dishes, trays and display pieces available at Mohr & Mcpherson. 100% of profits go to supporting The Okari School.