Mama Rungu Church

The one luxury I had brought on this trip was a battery-powered fan. Halfway through the night, in my dripping, hot hut in Loiyangalani, the fan died. I woke up to rain pounding on my thatched roof. Loiyangalani usually has consistent high winds; it is what makes life bearable, at least for us mzungus, who need the wind in order to survive the heat. But that morning, when I stepped out of my hut to go to the shower room and saw the big fat black clouds, I knew there would be no winds, and we were in for a very hot day. 

Today was a Sunday and we would not be able to visit any of the business groups until after everyone had attended church, so we arranged to get a tour of the new fresh fish factory that was nearing completion. Alfred Muhoho, of the Jade Sea Fish Company, provided the tour of the renovated building that had been abandoned as a fresh fish factory 30 years ago.  They were working with the local fisherman but he was frustrated because the skill of fishing in deep water for Nile Perch and Tilapia had been lost. Now, people mostly fished by raft or with nets close to shore, and catching the smaller tilapia that was dried and then sold to fish companies in Kisumu because of the death of the fishing business on Lake Victoria. The dried fish business was a major source of income for many of our business groups in Loiy, and Kura and I wanted to understand how our businesses could benefit from this new enterprise. 

So far, the main beneficiaries of the fresh fish business have been the Elmolo fishermen who had been provided with motors and fish finders for their large boats. In one 24-hour period, they earned 45,000 shillings (about $625). When Alfred showed us the walk-in freezer, we saw six feet-long Nile Perch and equally long Tilapia fish. The Jade Sea Fish Company has offered to buy boats, motors and fish finders for interested fishermen but most of the people they had worked with so far were afraid of the deep water and did not know how to navigate a large boat in high winds.

We also discussed the pending tragedy that could befall Lake Turkana if Gibe III, the third hydroelectric dam of the Omo River in Ethiopia, is finished. The diversion of water from this dam to Ethiopia will dramatically alter the levels of Lake Turkana. Kenya has basically thrown the people of Lake Turkana under the bus in their search for cheap energy sources. Alex felt that the only recourse was to appeal to international environmental bodies as a way to pressure the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments. 

Loiyangalani will be the site for the highly anticipated Lake Turkana Wind Project, the largest wind project in Africa. It will consist of 385 towers that are expected to provide 30% of Kenya’s power. There is great concern in Loiyangalani about the impact this will have on the community.  Many people are hoping to be hired and a local leader in the village told me that the company will have a foundation that will  fund local development projects. Since BOMA is the only organization that works specifically in Laisamis district, it is my hope that our mission of improving the capacity of individuals to earn an income will resonate with the company executives who will make these important decisions. 

That afternoon, we visited with 15 of our 40 business groups. Our dynamic Business Mentors, Teresa and Benjamin, told us that everyone in the community wants to support the BOMA businesses. Some of the local shopkeepers host our business groups on the porch of their retail shops as a way to support their efforts. It is the same thing we have seen in many villages where community members have great concern for their poorest members and want to help. By providing the BOMA business groups a retail location, they can attract new customers as well as support the poorest members of the community.  The Nomadic business group is one such group and when I asked to see their record book the treasurer told me “we do everything together. I keep the records but we do it when we are all together.” 

Grandmother and child from the Turkana village outside of Loiyangalani

The Dining for Women organization in the U.S. has provided us with funding for 60 businesses for women in the Loiy region and we have started 33 to date. One of the most interesting groups is the Retuso group, a mixed group of Rendille, Turkana and Somali women who collect dried fish from the local fisherman to sell to the Kisumu fish buyers. Collecting the fish is a tough job, as you must walk the shores of the lake at night, when most of the fishermen are out, and be prepared to meet them at dawn with cash to buy the fish. They then have to be dried and stored in a safe location until they can be transported to the cooperative where they are bundled and loaded on to the fish lorries. 

Rebecca Reete, the dynamic leader of Retuso, told me that two of the five members of their group have now been able to send their children to secondary school. Rebecca has a full load with no husband, four children of her own and three orphans that were the children of her sister. Burdened with her responsibilities, which also includes doing cleaning work for one of the tourist camps, Rebecca hired her brother to collect the fish for a few nights. He disappeared with the funds used to buy the fish, and when Rebecca confronted him, he hit her in the face with a rock, knocking out her front tooth. She was smiling nonetheless, but we were concerned that the profits from the business, as is the case with many of our business groups, were being kept in an unlocked box at her home.

We returned to the Palm Shade Camp for what has now become a ritual of my visits to Lake Turkana. Everyone refers to it as Mama Rungu Church. I load up Gumps with as many people as I can and drive to the shores of the Lake for a swim and sunset. The men go to the men’s beach and Teresa, Damaris and I go to the women’s beach. Damaris has never swum in the lake before and after cajoling by Teresa and me, she finally gives in, sheds her shirt and skirt, and walks into the water in her underwear. The lake is shallow here but I go out as far as I can so that I can get a few laps in, trying to forget the fact that this lake has the highest concentration of crocodiles in the world. 

Mama Rungu Church - Sunset on Lake Turkana

When the sun starts to set, I put on my clothes over my bathing suit and walk down the shore, giving myself the precious gift of time alone to think. This has been such a quick trip with few opportunities for reflection. Tomorrow we will start the journey back to Nairobi, visiting one last set of villages. On the way back to the Palm Shade, I floor the accelerator over one of the hills and everyone screams as we land in the soft sand. 

Before dinner, Kura and I make plans to depart the village at 4 a.m. the next morning, in part as a security measure since we must drive back through a conflict zone, but also because the crossing of the Kaisut Desert is going to be tough, now that the rains have arrived.

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About Mama Rungu

Founder and CEO The Boma Project
This entry was posted in Africa, African climate change, African drought, African women, Climate change refugees, Dining for Women, Economic empowerment, Empower African women, Kathleen Colson, Lake Turkana, Lake Turkana Wind Project, Mama Rungu, Northern Kenya, REAP (Rural Entrepreneur Access Project), Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP), The BOMA Fund. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mama Rungu Church

  1. Mary Stone says:

    safe ride back through the muddy desert Kathleen. Hope phase two of your journey with Dining for Women is wonderful!

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