A self-described southern transplant to Portland, Laura Walker is an advocate for education, self-sufficiency, and a supporter of social change through trade. Laura founded AMSHA Studio in 2012. Below is her story:
In 2008, I went on a post-graduation trip to volunteer and explore East Africa. In Kenya, I met an orphaned boy on that first night over dinner. His name was John. John was a 17-year-old, sixth grader and a smart, well-respected young man in his village. He was the oldest child at his school, and towered over all of the other kids, as he didn’t get an opportunity to start school until he was eleven. He had all the potential in the world... but was lacking money for school fees. I started asking him questions on that first night, and his answers only led to more questions. We spent six weeks having these nightly dinner conversations, and over the course of the summer, I grew to understand. I realized the heart of the issue was not the lack of school fees but really the lack of jobs for parents and guardians.
As I packed up my bags to leave Kenya, I viewed poverty in a very different light and saw the complexities involved. I witnessed the downfalls of misguided foreign aid and ‘help’ that wasn’t leading to the intended outcomes. It was this exchange and friendship that altered my career.
Shortly after my return home, I quit my job and packed my bags to return to Africa. I moved back with a desire to work with artisans to foster job creation and education opportunities. Back then, I had no clue about exporting, importing, or producing goods in a foreign country. But my vision for a brighter future, my background in interior design, and my love for artisanal work was the driving force. I researched artisanal work in East Africa and worked in micro-enterprise development in South Africa, before moving to Kenya at the end of 2012 to start Amsha.
Amsha works directly with artisans across Africa. Today, we work with nine (9) women's cooperatives and two (2) independent artisans in Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. This year, our artisan partners have produced thousands of handmade items—and we continue to create new designs! By creating jobs at Amsha, we help artisans to become self-sufficient and to educate their children.
We know this is only the beginning for Amsha and for our artisans. Much of our story is still waiting to be written. Amsha’s goal has always been to make a real and measurable impact, and I'm so grateful to each of you for following along and supporting our mission to bring about social change.