Meaning "smile/laughter," Kicheko designs and makes distinctive pieces that invest in education in the Democratic Republic of Congo
How It Works
Each purchase from Kicheko's collection* provides a scholarship for underresourced children to attend school. Currently, Kicheko is partnered with Mango Tree School, a primary school based in Uvira that educates over 200 primary-level students in the South Kivu province who are underresourced and cannot afford school fees and the other costs associated with attending school. In 2013, proceeds from Kicheko were used to provide school fees and supplies for children who have been orphaned by the conflict. In 2014, proceeds from Kicheko were used to help construct a 6-classroom brick school building for the Mango Tree School and provide scholarships for children in the community to attend Mango Tree School.
In 2015, our goal is to help students most in need to attend school year round. Often times, families will be able to afford school fees for only a few months. Children cannot attend school the remaining months of the academic year resulting in them falling behind unable to successfully complete year end exams and sadly, the cycle repeats the following year.
Kicheko is an attempt to combat this cycle by identifying students who are most in need and working with families to ensure that their children stay in school year round.
In the future, we dream of partnering with other effective organizations on children's education and empowerment initiatives for girls and women. We also dream of collaborating with artists and artisans on design projects and events to provide a marketplace for their works and traditional techniques.
*purchase of 2 pairs of fabric button earrings will send a child to school for one month
The design process begins with a sketch, followed by a meticulous process sourcing the right pieces and findings from vendors and artisans, after which the making magic happens in our D.C. studio. Concepts for individual pieces and small batch collections are inspired by travels, geometry, nature, creative conversations, symbiosis, and the built environment. Kicheko's aesthetic communicates an unrefined boldness, sophisticated earthiness and playful simplicity.
Our staple ingredients are metal, wood and fabric. Other favorite materials include natural stones, deer tine, and leather. Fabrics are sourced from DC, NY, LA, and Africa (Congo, Tanzania and Kenya). All other materials are sourced from the USA, Australia, Greece, South Korea and China. It is important to us to know who we work with and as much as possible we strive to work with ethical and excellent suppliers and manufacturers.
Each product type is debuted in batches of 10-20 units. Once made available online and through pop up shops, Kicheko evaluates customer and retail response. Depending on the product's resonance, the decision is made to remake and restock. This small-scale design model allows for freedom to create dynamic pieces and small batch collections.
When Congo comes up in the news, it most likely centers around longstanding instability, conflict minerals, corruption, lack of infrastructure, or all of the above. Local and international rebels find safe havens in the jungles and mountains of the East. Natural resources and competition for control of minerals in the East also fuel the conflict. Some cite the conflict in the Congo being one of the the deadliest since World War II, with an estimated 5 million dead as a result. Gender-based violence is used as a tactic of war threatening the fabric of families and stability of communities. While all of this goes on and diplomatic efforts strive to stem the tide, children are marginalized, undernourished and under-resourced - their future hanging in the balance.
What We Experienced
The odds against Congo can be overwhelming but they are not the whole story. For 5 years, I have traveled with a dedicated team of peers with diverse experiences in medical, business, construction, financial, management, educational, and advocacy fields. Each year, we realize that hope can be made tangible and that resilience is in all of us.
We've seen the ascending tall hills that surround Uvira, walked on the volcanic rock in Goma, heard about the rain forests to the north and marveled at the stillness of Lake Tanganyika. The landscapes are breathtaking and it is easy to see how this country is endowed with so much and all the potential that exists. The beauty also extends to the people we have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know throughout the years. From the heartfelt greetings, incredible hospitality and deep conversations despite language barriers, we have learned so much about what truly matters in life and what makes a life.
We have come to know Congolese pastors with true father's hearts who started a center to raise children orphaned by the conflict. We have come to know the beautiful and strong women who run the center and are adopted mothers to the children. We have witnessed the close knit and communal spirit of these communities despite forces trying to tear them apart. It is a country of paradox and a distressed history but it is also very much a country of hope and beauty.
In my travels, it has been uplifting to see their perseverance and experience their joy. Even in the midst of poverty, sickness, and the looming threat of instability, I've learned from my relationship that we need each other to grow, transform, and to realize our full potential. There is complication in community but more so, there is beauty and life.
My name is Sarah Bayot and I am the Founder/Designer of Kicheko Goods. I live in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. with my husband, James. We have come to love this dynamic and thriving city and feel fortunate to have lived here for over a decade. My academic interests brought me to the district where after 7 years, I completed a master's in International Affairs & Development at George Washington University studying care of children in complex emergency situations. One class in particular impacted me greatly wherein I studied DR Congo and it's modern history. It wasn't long before my studies went from my head to my heart learning about the injustices and challenges that have debilitated progress and development. At the time in 2008, my hope was to one day visit, learn and in some way, big or small, become an advocate for Congo. That day came sooner than I imagined when in 2011, I co-led a team to eastern Congo in order to assist an orphanage with the construction and installation of a clean water pipeline. The connections with the community were instant and by the end of the week, our worldview grew by leaps as well as our respect of how the Congolese worked tirelessly towards a brighter future. Our team has traveled to assist with this community in eastern Congo every year since that initial mission. In 2013, Mango Tree School, a beautiful 6-classroom primary school educating over 200 students from the surrounding community, opened its doors.
Compelled by the arts and desiring a medium through which I could bring creativity into my daily practice, I began designing jewelry. My initial designs were simple and functional fabric studs. I loved where the search for new textiles brought my friends and me. I began to sell some of these earrings organically through word of mouth, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter commissioning an exclusive batch, my local church ordering 500 pairs for Mother's Day. The more I designed jewelry and continued to learn about a creative lifestyle, the more I felt an alignment and excitement of identity and purpose. After nearly a year of planning, saving and preparation, I left my full-time job and in 2014, Kicheko Goods became an official D.C.-based socially conscious business.
Merging the creative arts with development and positive impact was a natural fit. The vision for Kicheko is to create beautiful pieces of jewelry, engage communities, and bridge access to quality education for children who are vulnerable and at risk. Art is a powerful medium and I love the chance that I have to create everyday and provide a means through which adornment can also bring hope to someone's life. It is my hope that our products and shared stories bring a smile to your face, light to your life and the perfect addition to your outfit.
"courage is like a muscle. we strengthen it by use." - Ruth Gordon