History

Marafiki, Swahili for Friends All

Marafiki Arts co-founder Lucy Lau-Bigham grew up in a community where the extended family plays a central role - economically, socially and politically. Her love for community development emerged from these early experiences.

In the Kamba tribe, little distinction is made between one's children, nieces, nephews or neighbors' children. Children address all adults as uncles and aunties. Adults welcome all children as their own, and children feel free to move from one household to another. Lau-Bigham's tribal experience nurtured her interest in helping communities of disadvantaged people.

Since graduating from the University of Nairobi with a bachelor's degree in Design, Lau-Bigham has spent more than 20 years working to provide economic opportunities for her community.

In 1992, under the sponsorship of USAID, Lau-Bigham arrived in Philadelphia, PA to pursue professional training. It was during this period that she met Christina Roberts at the Fabric Workshop and Museum. Together they saw opportunity in working with disadvantaged communities to promote sustainable economies.

In 2003, after Lau-Bigham was invited to coordinate an apprentice-training program for disadvantaged inner city high school students at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, and after an inspiring trip that Lau-Bigham and Roberts took to Kenya to meet with the Kamba in Wote, Makueni Kenya, Marafiki Arts was founded. Shortly there after, in 2004, they welcomed fellow textile expert Cynthia Porter as a member of the Board's Executive Committee.

It was Christina's four-year-old daughter, Mary Graham, who named the organization Marafiki (Swahili for 'Friends All') after witnessing Lau-Bigham's and Roberts' passionate conversations about their dreams for community development.