On the edge of the town of Korr, Amina and Shalom rent out the most amazing huts – tall domed one-room structures made with sticks and branches. On the outside the roof is covered with burlap and on the inside the hut is lined with beautiful fabrics, sheets and towels. The grommets that hold the fabric in place on the inside are a combination of yarn ties and tusker beer bottle caps. The windows are a grid of branches with wire netting that are large enough to bring in the strong desert winds.
My hut has a cement floor, a couch and two chairs covered in flowered slipcovers and best of all – a queen size bed with a headboard. The ceiling of the hut is high, so different from the stuffy huts of Loiy that hold the heat in. Just outside the brightly painted blue door is a platform of bamboo sticks on sturdy posts. You only have to bring out your mattress for a night of sleeping under the stars.
We arrived in time to join Kura and his passengers for tea and a late lunch of stew and rice. That afternoon we all slept. The sun beat down on the huts but the breeze was constant. At dusk, Shalom lit candles in the bath house and brought me a tub of warm water and a cup. I rinsed off the day’s dust with the precious water and changed into one of my comfortable African dresses. That night we did what everyone does at night in Korr. We hung out on the mattresses and told stories, all the while competing for the first to see a satellite or shooting star. Korr is the home to most of Kura’s mixed Rendille / Somali family and a parade of people came out to see him.
The nomadic villages that ring Korr are the heart of the Rendille culture. Rich with traditions, legends and stories, the region is also isolated from the rest of the district by the surrounding Kaisut Desert. This is, in part, the reason for its strengths – it is a center of trade and commerce and there are numerous businesses and services. Soon, Safaricom will build a cell phone tower that will connect a community that is increasingly becoming more connected to the world beyond their own village. It is here that we chose to launch REAP – the Rural Entrepreneur Access Project – in 2009 and we now have over 80 businesses in an area of 2500 square kilometers.
Much of our work over the past week has been the result of the feedback from our recent Impact Assessment Survey of the first 100 REAP businesses. Our model is adapted from one started by Village Enterprise Fund in western Kenya and we are now implementing additional changes that will allow us to leverage our program of grants, training and mentoring for the greatest benefit for participants. Our goal is to see improvements in nutrition and household assets as well as an improved ability to pay for medical care and school fees for children. In this land of grasslands and deserts and mountains, the stakes are high – a large percentage of the population lives near the edge of survival. So it is here that we come face to face with the understanding that this work is not about charity but about finding solutions to problems without robbing people of their heritage or dignity.
The next day, we come face to face with that reality as we visit with Holiya of Nahagan village. Her business group of five women have done well and they are eager to show us their savings and record book of transactions that is kept by a local schoolchild. On the day that BOMA assembled a new group of businesses for a training session and the disbursement of the seed capital grants, Holiya was back in her hut, having just given birth to a child. Her husband was far away tending the few remaining livestock and she and her children had nothing to eat. When the group returned from the BOMA event, they brought food to sell in the village in the new hut they had built for selling their products. Holiya took a small amount of food on credit and that night she and her children had food. Holiya now has greater control of her life and her children benefit from the business that provides profits and savings for her family.
On the way back from Nahagan village we stop in the dry riverbed to visit with some of the elders and warriors who have brought their camels, goats and cows for water. Deep wells are dug by hand in the riverbed and the warriors create a chain of men who hand the buckets up one by one that are then dumped into a trough for the livestock. All the while, the warriors chant and sing: