Meet the Maker
In the 1970’s, when Reena’s mother was a young woman, she made a very bold move. She left home to begin her teaching career in a small rural town, Kisii. Many years later, Reena chose to name her company kisii, as a symbol for taking risks with a heart full of good intentions.
Reena began kisii to fundraise for various causes that she believed in, most importantly tumor research. After being diagnosed with a rare tumor in 2010, she went through surgery, radiation and has been undergoing chemotherapy on and off ever since. She’s tried traditional cancer treatments, participated in clinical trials and has also explored alternative modalities like Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture. “I began making jewelry as a creative outlet and to practice mindfulness through making. My road to healing has been a long journey, but I’ve learned to keep looking forward.”
kisii began with the intention of fundraising for two hospitals that have helped treat Reena’s tumors – Mount Sinai Hospital & Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.
“I wanted to give back and decided to start making bracelets and donate the proceeds towards cancer research.”
While she continues to fundraise for cancer research, Reena has also enjoyed collaborating with environmental organizations, conservationists, and other local and global charities.
I was able to catch up with Reena to ask her a couple of questions about her life as a teacher and activist.
Becky: Thank you, Reena, for taking the time to share with us your journey. Please tell us, how is your health?
Reena: Hi Becky and thank you for inviting me to talk about my work and experiences today. My health is a work in progress. I’m currently on oral chemotherapy treatment and hopeful to explore new treatment options in the near future (fingers crossed). Overall, despite the challenges, I’m feeling quite good.
Becky: Why did you choose the craft of making jewelry to help you practice mindfulness?
Reena: I’m lucky to have female elders in my family that taught me to appreciate art from a young age. I’ve been influenced mainly by Indian and African art but discovered similar craft traditions while traveling to Peru. Every culture has a history of women and craft that reflects our shared experience over time. I’ve always admired a beautiful embroidered, beaded peacock tapestry that my aunt made and loom weavings that my mom made using natural yarns and beads that are still displayed in my family home. Craft was a big part of my childhood. When I was 7, I learned how to use a traditional 108 bead mala. I love traditional crafts and art has always been around me, in different forms. Life is fast-paced these days, and craft provides a way for me to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Making something slowly with my hands feels like meditating.
Becky: I love that you are supporting the causes that you believe in by creating jewelry. How do you go about collaborating with the causes that you want to support?
Reena: I was a librarian for a few years and learned the joy of research during that time. I’ve also taught in schools where the curriculum was explored through issues related to social justice. When there’s an issue I care about, I research it as much as I can. I’m a little shy but very proactive, and I enjoy writing so I send lots of emails and try to connect through Instagram and things seem to come together somehow. It’s a great feeling when I finally get to make a donation and see how the money is being used.
Becky: Have you met any of the people that your proceeds have helped?
Reena: I’ve fostered an elephant for 8 years through the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. They are a wonderful organization and communicate closely with foster parents through monthly newsletters with updates. I am looking forward to seeing my elephant reintegrated back into the wild one day. Maybe I’ll be able to visit the sanctuary in Kenya one day, that would be awesome! But more personally, during my first round of chemo, I made a friend who was also undergoing treatment. His mom decided to create a charity to help find a cure. The Desmoid Foundation was established in 2017 and it helped me connect with lovely patients across the globe. We’re all trying to raise awareness together and it’s been very rewarding and comforting. This year I’ve been asked to speak at their annual event, which I’m looking forward to.
I’ve found that people are often willing to share and collaborate – you just have to reach out and begin the conversation.
Becky: I read that you are also a teacher, like your mother. I want to thank you for what you have taught me through learning about you. You are a person that has chosen to see the gifts in what life has to offer and have found ways to give back through your kind and gentle quiet activism. Thank you for choosing Nunn Design Findings to help in kisii’s mission.
Reena: That’s so kind of you to say, thank you. I was lucky to have found your beautiful materials and hope we can continue to share and learn from each other. I’ve had my eye on your embroidery kits! Thank you for all the beautiful work you share and for taking the time to talk today, I really enjoyed it 🙂