Mooresville resident Jodie Kacer will make her sixth trip to Africa in January, and for a month she’ll live with the Maasai, an ethnic group of people who reside in a rural and undeveloped part of western Kenya. During her stay she’ll work with fellow members of a nonprofit called the Maasai American Organization to help educate young Maasai girls and implement projects to improve community health. To aid in these efforts, Kacer sells one-of-a-kind jewelry made by the Maasai, with all funds going to help these semi-nomadic people who still live much as they did in the 15th century.
On getting involved: Originally from Wisconsin, Kacer said she met Lea Pellet, the president of the Maasai American Organization and also a Wisconsin native, while at a craft fair in 2002. Intrigued by Pellet’s organization as well as the bold and dramatic Maasai jewelry and art she was selling, Kacer invited Pellet over for dinner. “By the end of the meal I had signed on for the next trip to Africa,” says Kacer, who moved to Mooresville last year. “I was really moved by what Pellet was doing and wanted to help, but it wasn’t a purely altruistic act. It seemed like an incredible way to see and experience another culture.”
On primitive living: Pellet has made five trips to Africa since 2002, and several to Guatemala as well, where the Newport News, Va.-based Maasai organization also has programs to help with public education and health. But it’s been her trips to western Kenya that have made the biggest impression, she says. “The Maasai live very primitively,” she says. “There’s limited running water, and the only electricity comes from a small solar panel the MAO installed a few years ago. All the cooking is done over a wood fire.” During her visits, Kacer has helped develop water purification systems and hand-washing stations in order to prevent infections and disease. And MAO also helps fund educational programs for young Maasai girls.
On developing a market: Upon returning home from her trips to Africa and Guatemala, Pellet is often loaded down with indigenous jewelry and crafts, which range from wood carvings, beaded necklaces and baskets to textiles. “If you ever run across me at the airport I look like a little burro,” she says. Because she’s new to Mooresville, she’s still looking for outlets to sell these original pieces. So far she’s hosted events at house parties and church groups, and has even sold pieces from the trunk of her car. “I’m still developing a market here, but so far the reception I’ve gotten is great.”