A Blogger from Kenya Talks About BOMA

David Muchui from Meru, posts about The BOMA Project:

Manyatta Banking, Enterprises, Taking Root Among Pastoralist Communities

Posted on October 16, 2012 | Leave a comment

A group of women guide their donkeys through the vast Kaisut Desert of Marsabit County laden with shop supplies bought from Korr trading centre miles away from their Manyatta where they are now operating kiosks.

At a Manyatta in Korr, another group of women is all smiles as they go through their record books and surrender part of the money earned in small businesses for saving in a Manyatta Bank.

This is a big contrast from the past when nomadic pastoralist women only engaged in domestic chores while being perceived of no value economically-it was a taboo for a woman to fend for the family.

While the men moved with livestock in search for greener pastures during droughts, women and children were left behind with only the weak animals and no source of income or food leading to immense suffering.

As a result, the constant droughts that ravage the northern parts of Kenya had turned most pastoralist communities into dependants of hand outs and relief food from the government and other humanitarian organizations that have heavy presence in the Arid and Semi Arid areas.

Gladly, this vicious cycle of living from hand to mouth among nomadic pastoralists is now being broken by a new initiative dubbed Manyatta banking courtesy of an NGO, Boma Project which is running a programme known as Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP).

Three Lock Metal Money Box

A BOMA Manyatta Banking Training Program with the three lock box for savings

In the recent past, the banking industry has been growing and expanding tremendously in various parts of the country while coming up with ingenious products to appeal to Kenyans of all economic backgrounds.

However, the cut throat competition by SACCOs, Mobile money transfer services, Commercial banks and Deposit taking Micro-Finance institutions has not yet been felt in the lives of most pastoralist communities where the majority remains unbanked despite their riches in livestock.

The nearest commercial banks in these areas can only be found in Isiolo, Maralal and Marsabit towns which are as far as 200 kilometers from the villages where Manyatta banking is now taking root. Likewise, few of these areas have reliable mobile network hence mobile money transfer in these areas is still a pipe dream.

This is despite estimates from the Ministry of Agriculture, showing that Pastoralism accounts for about 10 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 95 percent of family income among pastoralists.

In Samburu and Marsabit Counties, tucking of money under the mattress is still a common practice which is mostly facilitated by the mobility of the pastoralists as well as in-accessibility of commercial banks save for the now vibrant micro-savings program that is revolutionizing the entrepreneurial and saving culture of  pastoralist women.

With a three lock metal box, the women who are teamed up in groups of three can now save their daily earnings and lend to members at a low interest.

“This initiative has brought life into our village. We had never imagined of saving money to the tune of Sh100 thousand. I am happy that we will no longer rely on relief food because we are the lenders,” says an overjoyed Amina Guyo.

Former Foes Coming Together

BOMA Project provides seed capital and training on the establishment of savings associations which are made up of several REAP business groups for women in Marsabit and Samburu counties.

“We are very happy that we don’t have to wait for well wishers for food. We can afford to feed our children and take them to school even if there is drought. The small businesses have given us a new lease of life,” she says.

Women in Loiyangalani, Samburu, Marsabit, Laisamis and Archers post are a joyful lot after BOMA Project officers imparted them with the business skills and how to operate a village (Manyatta) bank for their groups.

The Women from Rendille, Samburu and Turkana communities which have been historical rivals over the culture of cattle rustling put aside their differences and work harmoniously in the REAP business groups to achieve a common goal-profits and savings.

According to Ahmed ‘Kura’ Omar, the Director of Operations at Boma Project, the program was initiated to alleviate the struggles of pastoralist women by replacing aid with sustainable income through small businesses.

“Whenever there is a drought, pastoralist communities are the most affected through loss of livestock. Most of the women relied on their husbands for food and other needs. This made it hard for women and children to cope after men left in search of water and pasture,” Ahmed says.

Under the REAP programme, Ahmed says that the women are organized in groups of three where they are trained in business skills, given a grant of Sh11, 500 to start small businesses under the guidance of a village mentor for two years.

“Once the three member group has established their business, they are provided with a lock box. Every member makes a specified contribution every month and the money is kept in the box. The box has three padlocks which means it can only be opened when all group members are together,” the director explains.

Ahmed adds that the REAP business groups form savings groups comprised of three to eight business groups. Each REAP business group contributes a monthly amount to the group savings account which is used as a source of credit for expansion of individual group businesses.

The beneficiaries of Boma Project are now running businesses ranging from village kiosks, butcheries, bakeries, tailoring and laundry, beading, fish mongering to petroleum products which are building a vibrant economy among the pastoralists.

“With the individual and group savings in the local lock boxes, the REAP business groups can lend to other community members during harsh times. We have launched over 900 businesses in Samburu, Laisamis, Loiyangalani and Marsabit Districts. We are now seeing a self reliant community in this region,” remarks Ahmed.

Women who were once reliant to portions of relief food now have no time to waste thinking about the next journey to aid centres to collect food rations, but how they will grow their new-found enterprises.

“Our lives are now much better and interesting because we have something to do and earn a living. It feels good to sit and plan on how to improve our business and increase the savings,” Gumato Lomurut, an entrepreneur says.

Following the improved livelihoods brought about by the women entrepreneurs, the once conservative men are giving up the age old beliefs that work against women.

“Men have now started doing away with strong cultural beliefs. They are appreciating their women because they are reducing the burden of fending for families. These roles were wholly left to men but now women have come in with a lot of energy,” John Lesas, a Village Mentor at Ngurunit, Laisamis says.

With some families having been deprived of livestock through the persistent droughts and raids by cattle rustlers, the Boma Project intends to train men on technical skills in mechanics, masonry and carpentry.

The resulting diverse economy among the pastoralists is expected to cushion them from the adverse effects of drought making them self reliant and entrepreneurs.

ENDS…/David Muchui/

To see the original post go to: http://ciameru.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/manyatta-banking-enterprises-taking-root-among-pastoralist-communities/

Posted in African drought, African women, Economic empowerment, REAP (Rural Entrepreneur Access Project), The BOMA Project | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Response to The Hunger Season

The BOMA Project’s response to a post in the Stanford Social Innovation Review: 

Roger Thurow is right: Nobody should have to die from hunger. I applaud One Acre Fund and its mission to eliminate the “hungry season” for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and to “attack hunger through agricultural development rather than food aid.”

But it’s not just smallholder farmers of food crops who are struggling to stay alive in Africa.  In 2011, the worst drought in 60 years triggered a hunger crisis in East Africa that impacted 13 million people and left an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 dead. The United Nations estimated the cost of the humanitarian response at $1.5 billion. That crisis happened not in the agricultural regions of sub-saharan Africa but in the dryland regions of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.

Marginalization, the lack of infrastructure investments and the provision of basic services like health care and education have all contributed to this growing crisis. But these regions share a number of other things in common.  As the climate changes, we are seeing an alarming rise in extreme poverty, hunger and armed violence. Drought is disrupting the traditional livestock industry and clashes between ethnic groups over increasingly scarce natural resources are rising.

A Rendille herder in northern Kenya

The focus for avoiding hunger crises in the drylands of Africa, from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel and western regions of the continent, lies in enhancing the resilience of pastoral livestock communities.  The focus should be on building infrastructure investments and diversifying livelihoods, especially for women and their dependent children who are particularly hard hit when they are left with no means of support as men travel with herds for months in search of ever-more-elusive pasture. Most are forced to rely on humanitarian food aid, a short-term solution that saves lives but reinforces the cycle of poverty and dependency in the African drylands.

Long term solutions are desperately needed.  Our organization, The BOMA Project, works to identify the most vulnerable women in dryland, pastoral communities and graduate them out of extreme poverty by putting them through a two-year program that addresses low incomes, inconsistent cash flows and inadequate financial instruments that are characteristic of the rural poor who have no access to traditional financial services like banks and cell phones. We move women out of extreme poverty, from beggars to lenders, so that they have increased assets, a committed savings income, usefully large sums of money for bigger expenditures like healthcare and education for their children, and most importantly, the ability to respond to shocks like extreme droughts.

The remote drylands of Africa are not easy to work in.  Most are lawless regions with no police or military presence; pastoralists are forced to be armed in order to protect their assets.  But 40% of Africa is classified as arid or semi-arid. They capture headlines and are portrayed by the media as a disaster in cycles that generate high profile short-term solutions.

We don’t see it that way.  We see communities of pastoralists who have been adapting for centuries.  Our women entrepreneurs enjoy the support of pastoralist men who face the daily challenges of providing for their families in an increasingly devastating cycle of droughts.  We see success every day.  97% of the businesses we launch are still in operation at three years.

The international community needs to focus on solutions for the drylands of Africa where hunger doesn’t exist and aid is no longer needed. That, in the end, is the only sustainable solution.

To see the Hunger Season post in SSIR: http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/the_last_hunger_season

Posted in Africa, African climate change, African drought, African women, Climate change refugees, Economic empowerment, Empower African women, Kathleen Colson, Kenya, Mama Rungu, Northern Kenya, REAP (Rural Entrepreneur Access Project), The BOMA Project | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Elsa’s Grave

I sleep lightly on safari because I don’t want to miss anything.  My eyes are closed, but I hover in a dreamy half-awake state with ears attuned to every sound.  During the middle of the night, the wind died.  It was hot and still.  I was cocooned in my mosquito net and sleeping on top of the covers.  Slowly I became conscious of something on my toe.  I reached for the flashlight under my pillow and turned the light on. Bright eyes beamed back at me and I realized that I had a visitor, and that he had been nibbling at my toe!

My midnight guest – on my bed!

My guest did not move – his eyes just grew wider and he was probably thinking, like me, about who would flee first.  It was a stand-off of just a few seconds, but I got a good enough look at him to know, by the distinctive long tail, that it was a genet cat.  Slowly I moved to the edge of the bed in order to lift the mosquito net.  My movements startled him and he jumped, entangling himself in the net.  I reached down, pulled the net up, and the genet slinked away to a branch outside my room.  I got up, tucked the mosquito net FIRMLY under the mattress and went back to sleep.

At dawn, Christopher brought me some coffee and biscuits.  I had time for just a quick cup and decided to deed my biscuits to the other invaders of my room – rock hyraxes – that were perched on the same branch as the genet cat during the night.

It took us over an hour of straight driving to reach the gravesite, set along the Uru River.  The camp had provided us with a guide in order to find the site – we would have been desperately lost for hours without the assistance of Wilson.

The Adamson’s work with lions, particularly George’s, was controversial.  A number of people were mauled by George’s lions resulting in his eventual banishment from Meru to the remote wilderness area of Kora.  The Adamson’s also lived in Kenya at a time when the treatment of local staff would be considered offensive in our era of enlightened race relations.  Their advocacy for wild animals and their right to return to the wild, however, instead of being placed in zoos, brought attention to the threats that wildlife face as the expansion of human settlements puts ever more pressure on wildlife habitats.

Now, tall double fences at long stretches of the park keep the elephants from wandering into farmland and grazing areas in order to decrease human/wildlife encounters that can be deadly.  The fences also prevent local livestock from reaching plentiful water sources during the dry seasons. The expansion of human settlements into wildlife areas means that this conflict will continue – as the population of Kenya increases and development expands there will be more competition for critical resources like water and grazing land.

Big William at Elsa’s grave. As a young boy, he remembers George coming into town with Elsa in the front seat.

But I was caught up in the romance of the story of George and Joy Adamson living with lions in the wild.  Elsa’s grave was a simple and peaceful place.  The stone had three plaques, one of which was missing.  A simple plaque had her name, birth and death dates (she only lived five years) and an engraved plaque on the top of the grave had a poem in German and English. After reading it aloud to Big William and Wilson, I took a picture of Big William on the grave.

Elsa likely died of tick fever.  This is what George Adamson wrote in his diary, on the night that she died:

“During the night Elsa became restless, walked down to the river and into the water, then crossed to half a submerged mud bank and lay on it until about 4 am, I suppose to cool her fevered body.  Her breathing was very labored and I knew the end was near.

I roused the camp and got my three boys to improvise a stretcher and we carried her back to my tent.  I lay down beside her and started to dose off.  Suddenly she got up, walked quickly to the front of the tent and collapsed.  I held her head in my lap.  In a few minutes she sat up and uttered a great and agonized cry.  Elsa was dead.

It may seem absurd but Elsa meant more to me than any other living creature has ever done.

My Elsa gone.  Gone the most wonderful friend and part of my life which nothing can replace.

George Adamson with Elsa

Why should it be?  Something which has created nothing but good will and love in the world.”

Joy Adamson was murdered in Shaba National Reserve on 3 January, 1980 by a discharged laborer formerly employed by Adamson.  George Adamson was murdered in 1989 while rushing to the aid of a tourist being attached by poachers.

Posted in Africa, African drought, Kathleen Colson, Kenya, Mama Rungu, Northern Kenya, Safari, The BOMA Project | Tagged | 5 Comments

Hope in the Wild

Kenya’s Meru National Park is a dry, rugged wilderness of incredible beauty. Bordered by the Tana River in the south and the Nyambeni Mountains to the west, it is a land of astounding diversity with spring-fed rivers, open grasslands, acacia woodlands and the motherly presence of a few ancient baobob trees.

Joy Adamson and the orphaned lion, Elsa, in Meru National Park.

The park was made famous by the orphaned lion, Elsa, who was raised by Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame.  Thanks to the books and movie, the park became a mecca for tourists hoping to relive the romantic life in the bush of the famous couple.

But Meru’s magic was not to last. In the 80’s, poaching and banditry set in and the elephants and rhinos were wiped out. According to local lore, the last rhino was shot from a presidential helicopter.  By the 1990’s the animals were gone, the park was dead and tourism had dried up.

Today the park is making a remarkable comeback.  A rhino sanctuary has been established within the preserve and 147 of the best, bad-ass rangers in the country are protecting a good number of black and white rhinos.  Their reputation is unparalleled – not one rhino has been poached in the past four years.  The conservative estimate on the elephant population is over 900.  The big cats – lions, cheetahs and leopards – are thriving.  Birdlife is boisterous and plentiful.  Thanks to investments in improved security and a local community education program, the park has become an undiscovered, fantastic jewel in the crown of Kenya’s national parks.

After three straight weeks of safari work, Nairobi fundraising and BOMA Project staff meetings, I came here with my friend and safari guide, Big William, to inspect the park and some of the camps and lodges in the region.  We arrived at Elsa’s Kopje on Friday afternoon after a long hot drive from Nanyuki.  Elsa’s is a spectacular camp built into a  rocky outcrop that rises out of the plains.  This was the place where George Adamson came to rehabilitate orphaned lions and eventually release them back into the wild.

After settling in, I sat quietly in my banda and enjoyed a spectacular sunset – a silent sigh of reds and oranges. William and I had a quite fancy dinner by candlelight. During the night I was awakened by the staccato grunt of lions, a reaffirming sound that Elsa’s spirit lives on.

On Saturday we traversed the eastern edge of the park and visited two camps.  In our travels, we encountered only two other safari vehicles.  We returned to camp in the late afternoon, just as a cooling breeze was starting to blow.  After a few splashes of cold water and a liter of water, I was refreshed. I sat in my safari chair, looking out over a dramatic, shimmering landscape of wild Africa.  In the distance I saw a family of elephants, some kudu and waterbuck.  I wanted it to never end, this feeling that I was in a place that was reclaiming its heritage, a place that could give hope to those of us that have seen so much devastating change over the past twenty years.

Meru can restore your faith in what is possible. Despite the coming tremor of the Kenyan election, fraught with potential conflict and the frustrated dreams of angry young men, I felt hopeful for the first time in weeks.  Sadness and sorrow were set aside and somehow it seemed possible that on this night, Kenya, a place that I hold so close to my heart, might survive.

Nelson Mandela said, “I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.”  That is my dream for tonight.

Posted in Africa, Economic empowerment, Empower African women, Kathleen Colson, Kenya, Safari, The BOMA Project | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Land Cruiser Plan B Program

Our journey to Samburu take us to the place in Kenya that is closest to my heart.  After passing through the reckless town of Isiolo, the rugged dramatic scenery of northern Kenya stretches out before us.  I imagine that our travelers see harsh and remote.  As we cross the bridge over the Ewaso Nyiro River bridge, I see beauty and drama.

We check into our lodge and Kura Omar, BOMA’s Operations Director, and Sarah Ellis, Program Development and Evaluation, join us for the evening with the Dining for Women group.  The next day we visit the Save the Elephant (STE) research center.  We are hosted by David Daballen, a good friend who grew up in one of the villages where BOMA works.

As David lifts a tarp that covers an old battered vehicle, he tells us the story of  STE researchers who were following two bull elephants in must – all horny and strung out on testosterone.   As they watched, the researchers observed an incredible fight and unexpectedly they found themselves too close to the raging bulls.  As they moved away from the fight, the losing bull,  Rommel, saw them and decided to take his loss out on the vehicle.  He proceeded to ram it with his tusks, his head and his feet.  The vehicle flipped three times before it rested against a tree.

Kura Omar, BOMA’s Operations Director, stands next to the Save the Elephant Toyota truck, destroyed by a bull elephant named Rommel. The two researchers in the vehicle survived.

The only thing that saved the researchers was the return of the challenging bull who distracted Rommel, giving them enough time to escape.  Looking at the vehicle now, it is hard to imagine that anyone could survive such an onslaught.  Eventually, STE contacted Toyota to brag about the hardy and durable nature of their Toyota pick-up truck.    A few more well-placed phone calls resulted in the donation of a brand new Toyota truck to the Save the Elephant team.

Kura and I looked at each other and smiled.  Our Land Cruiser, affectionately called the Gumpsmobile, was bought used from the British High Commission.  After four years of rough roads, river crossings and tough terrain, it is falling apart.  Each month, the maintenance and repair costs strain our budget and we are hesitant to embark on journeys to more remote villages where the need is so great, because we cannot risk breaking down.  A new vehicle is top on our wish list but in this hyper-inflated vehicle market a new land cruiser will cost us a minimum of $60,000  in precious donor funds.

It’s still a priority for 2013.  But in the meantime, Kura is out looking for a mean bull named Rommel.

Posted in Africa, African climate change, African drought, African women, Climate change refugees, Economic empowerment, Empower African women, Kathleen Colson, Kenya, Mama Rungu, Northern Kenya, The BOMA Project | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Tears in Samburu

Thanks to a generous gift from the Segal Family Foundation, BOMA has been able to hire and train a Village Mentor and launch businesses in the Archers Post area of northern Kenya.  The region is adjacent to Samburu National Reserve and so, for the first time, visitors and donors to BOMA are now able to see our work without having to charter a plane or endure a 10 to 14  hour road trip to the far northern region where we work.  We can now arrange for friends to visit the Samburu villages that we work with and then return to comfortable tourist accommodations – tented camps or lodges – in dramatic Samburu Reserve.

The BOMA business women of Kiltamany village escort the Dining for Women visitors to a dry river bed.

After breakfast and a leisurely morning game drive, our donor group, Dining for Women, traveled to Kiltamany village. Our journey took us away from the main feature of Samburu, the Ewaso Nyiro River, and as we wandered through the dense scrub the landscape dramatically changed.  We left green bushes and palm trees behind, climbing away from the river into a much higher and arid terrain. Despite the heat, windows remained rolled up as gray dust billowed from the back of each vehicle.  Turning up a final hill we rounded a bend and were greeted by a chorus of the BOMA business-owning women.  All of them were draped in their finest red-print cloths. The encircling bands of colorful beaded necklaces were spectacular.  Maria Lesiill, our BOMA Village Mentor, was also beautifully attired in a striking blue dress and solid red drape.  Her headpiece accentuated her beautiful face and big smile.  This was a proud moment for Maria.

Kura Omar, BOMA’s Operations Director, explains our grants-based program of training and mentoring for the women in Kiltamany village.

Our group assembled in a line, cameras in hand, as the singing women came forward in pairs to greet us. “Supa!” they called as each pair nodded their heads to the side in a traditional greeting.  Some of the visitors caught on, and greeted them with head dips of their own.  The BOMA women then grabbed the hand of each of our guests as we walked toward the shade of a dry river bed.  There, Kura provided an explanation of our grants-based model of training, and mentoring and Sarah described our savings program and the lock boxes.

The most dramatic moment came when some of the women talked about the impact the program has had on their lives.   Ngarayana Lebasiele was the most animated.  As Kura translated she told us, “We are all from one creator – no matter the color of your skin. It is you that come to visit us and now you see how strong we are.  We can earn money so that we can educate our children and then they will come to the US and visit you.”

Based upon the tears of our visitors, I would say that we made a good impression.

Posted in African climate change, African women, Dining for Women, Economic empowerment, Empower African women, Kenya, Northern Kenya, REAP (Rural Entrepreneur Access Project), Samburu | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Kibera

The Kibera slums of Nairobi.

The Kibera slums of Nairobi are wild.  It is muddy and smelly; it is vibrant and energetic.  Hope lives alongside desperate poverty.  It is a vestige of the flight from rural poverty to urban opportunity where a new world awaits those that are willing to live among squalor in the hope of a better life.

It is also a magnet for organizations, well-intentioned volunteers and program planners.  Celebrities, politicians and filmmakers flock to this heaving monstrosity of humanity – it is estimated that up to 1 million people live in the Kibera slums; half are under the age of 15.

The rent for a small 10 X 10 place, made of mud, corrugated iron and the caste-offs of the city is cheap compared to other city alternatives.  There are no services like water, sewage or electricity – the government considers the residents of Kibera illegal squatters.  So the sewage swirls down pathways and alleys and long poles prop up wires of illegally-poached electricity.

Visiting Kibera is fascinating to me because as the founder of The BOMA Project, I also know that this is one of the Nairobi slums where the herders of the north come to when they have given up life as a livestock pastoralist.  They come and stay with other herders who are typically hired to guard the huge canvas billboards that line the city highways and boulevards.  Their income is sent home once a month to wives and children who are left to survive on their own.  During a village assessment of one northern Kenya village, we documented a million shillings per month coming back to families from Nairobi security guards.

When the guards return home, typically once or twice a year, they bring the city with them.  HIV infection rates are twice the national average in Kibera. So that comes home sometimes too, along with the benefits of being a security guard of a billboard. During one rainy season in northern Kenya I was surprised to come upon a Rendille village where almost every skin hut was covered with strips of discarded canvas billboards advertising all the materialist necessities of middle class life.  The pastoralists now cover their homes with billboard canvas’ that they cannot read.

I don’t discount the opportunities that slum life provides.  Many will argue that slums are strategic springboards for former rural residents who have lived in poverty for generations.  And the ambitious energy of Kibera is palpable and exciting. But it is also a place of great risk. Clean water is hard to find, and with few public or private toilets, sanitation is practically non-existent.  According to Amnesty International one out of every five women in Kenya’s slums are raped.  There is no police. Unemployed youths eventually resort to robbing or mugging their way out of poverty.

I once had a well-known philanthropist suggest that if the poverty in northern Kenya is so bad, “Why don’t they just move?”  This is the place that they would move to.  This is the life they would have if they gave up their traditional lives of herding cattle and goats.

As we made our way out of Kibera, hopping over rivers of sewage and picking our way through the garbage, I wondered what must be going through the mind of a herder from the north on their first night in Kibera.  To come to the point in your life where you leave the stars and moon behind, the fresh air, your family and the songs of your village.  Does he wonder if he has arrived in some  version of hell?

Posted in Africa, African climate change, African drought, African women, Climate change refugees, Economic empowerment, Empower African women, Kathleen Colson, Kenya, Mama Rungu, Nairobi, Northern Kenya, The BOMA Project | Tagged , | 2 Comments

On the Road with Dining for Women

I will have a week of meetings with The BOMA Project staff on this trip but I am also leading a safari for a group of BOMA donors through the national organization, Dining for Women.  In 2010, I  led the first safari for this unique organization whose mission is “to empower women and girls living in extreme poverty by funding programs that foster good health, education, and economic self‐sufficiency …”

Dining for Women founder, Marsha Wallace and her daughter, Anna Leese, on the first Dining for Women Kenya trip in 2010

Dining for Women is a dinner giving circle.  Members “dine in” together as a chapter once a month, each bringing a dish to share, and their “dining out” dollars are sent to programs empowering women worldwide. Hundreds of chapters support carefully selected international programs each month and twice The BOMA Project has been a beneficiary in our work to economically empower the women of northern Kenya.

In 2010 I spoke at Dining for Women’s Global Summit and I congratulated them on their thoughtful and effective work: “You work to support small grassroots organizations like BOMA. You do your homework on identifying organizations that have powerful and effective models for fighting poverty and helping women in poor countries. You demand reports and accountability and then you spread the word about our work to a diverse audience of women around the United States. You give your members an opportunity to be part of something bigger, all within the fellowship of other women.” 

“And then you let us do our work, without asking for anything more than the opportunity to understand our program, the women we work with, and the knowledge of your impact. That is why the greatest, the most selfless act of compassion on behalf of  women living in poverty is to write a check. Every month, Dining for Women does just that … and I believe it represents one of the best collective efforts of philanthropy in the world.”

I’m proud to be once again leading a group of travelers from Dining for Women.  Already, four of the travelers have arrived in Nairobi and we had a delightful dinner talking about important and powerful projects in Nepal and Cambodia.  Some of the travelers serve on the selection committee and others help women start their own DFW chapters.  Tonight the rest of the group arrives and tomorrow we are off to visit a Dining for Women funded organization, Shining Hope for Communities, in the Kibera slums of Nairobi.  This inspiring organization, founded by Kennedy Odede & Jessica Posner, is doing ground-breaking work.  I was inspired a few years ago by the Op-Ed that Kennedy wrote in the NYTimes entitled “Slum Dog Tourism”.   In the morning we will be visiting Shining Hope’s Kibera School for Girls, not as poverty tourists, but as collaborators and partners who are working hard to be part of the solution.

Posted in Africa, African women, Dining for Women, Economic empowerment, Empower African women, Kathleen Colson, Kenya, Northern Kenya, The BOMA Project | Tagged , | 3 Comments

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A quick google of the words famine, drought and Africa brings up a remarkable number of articles and blog posts.  The Guardian in the UK has a terrific blog called Poverty Matters and recent posts include a review of a book, “Pastoralism and Development in Africa” as well as a criticism of the US Food Aid budget, “Corporate Welfare for US Grain Giants”.

This is not a tragedy – this is the face of success. Three BOMA entrepreneurs with pack donkeys head to the settled village of Korr to replenish supplies for their nomadic village kiosk selling soap, tea, sugar and other simple items. These women are feeding, educating and providing medical care for their children, as well as accumulating savings to survive drought periods.

Climate change and droughts are devastating communities in the Horn of Africa and women and children remain the most vulnerable victims.  What we are seeing on the ground in northern Kenya is a number of interventions for climate change adaptation and resilience-building around the livestock industry but this ignores the fact that women and children are increasingly left behind in the villages, sometimes for as long as six months, as men travel farther and longer in search of grazing terrain and water.  With little hope of employment beyond menial labor, like hauling water or gathering firewood, women are forced to beg for credit and rely on humanitarian food aid to survive.  At The BOMA Project, we believe that strategies to build long-term resilience in these communities must go beyond a focus on men and the vulnerable livestock industry.

BOMA’s focus is on the economic empowerment of women living in the rural drylands of Africa.  We not only help build sustainable income levels for women so that they can survive drought, feed their families and pay for school fees and medical care.  We also focus on the problems of inconsistent cash flow and inadequate financial services so that women can accumulate savings for long-term stability.  Here is where we stake our claim: To date we have launched 925 businesses of 3300 adults who support over 17,000 children in Samburu, Laisamis, Loiyanglani and Marsabit Districts of northern Kenya.  Our recent Impact Assessment of businesses at one year and three years underscores the success of an economic empowerment program that focuses on women: 63% decrease in the number of children going to bed hungry at least once a month; 89% increase in the number of participants eating two meals a day; 67% increase in the number of children attending school and a 41% increase in the number of women attending adult literacy programs.  82% of all participants are actively saving and lending money through their business or BOMA saving groups.

Women play a key role in supporting their households and communities in achieving food and nutrition security, generating income, and improving rural livelihoods.  In order to break the cycle of poverty, climate change adaptation strategies for northern Kenya, and for all the rural drylands of Africa, must include a focus on women.

Over the next few months, I will be posting as many comments as I can on blogs and news reports to raise awareness of the need for programs that focus on the plight of women and children in drought-affected regions of rural Africa. If you believe in the dignity of the human spirit, and in the power of women and mothers who seek to not only survive but thrive in their traditional homelands, then you can help us: Please share and post this blog.  

Posted in Africa, African climate change, African drought, African women, Climate change refugees, Economic empowerment, Northern Kenya | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Omar Gets Married

The Sokotei tree is a treasure to the wildlife and people of northern Kenya.  The dense low branches provide tiny dik-dik antelopes with a good hiding place from raptors; noisy francolins and helmeted guinea fowl have a cool midday place to escape the heat and sun.  Elephants, especially the young ones, love to eat the succulent leaves. Local residents like the firm flesh and fresh taste of the branches and cut small pieces from the tree to use as toothbrushes. Sometimes they call the Soketei the toothbrush tree.

30 years ago, a young mother from Korr gave birth to a small baby boy under the spreading branches of a Sokotei tree.  The baby was given the traditional Muslim name of Omar.  But because of his birthplace, he was also called Sokotei.  Now a grown man, Omar provides field support to The BOMA Project.  He changes tires, cooks meals, runs errands, sets up our meetings and sings beautiful love songs on our long drives.  When all is going well, I call him Omar.  When there is an emergency, it is always Sokotei, three syllables being more appropriate as in, “Sokotei, there is a scorpion in my hut!” or “Sokotei, did you hear that gunfire?”

The day after our meeting with the Bayo savings group, we stopped by Omar’s mother’s house.  She was waiting for us, and Omar’s sister was there too. They came over to the vehicle and we chatted for a few minutes. I handed over 5000 shillings and Omar’s mother quickly rolled the money into the folds of her dress.  The funds would be used as a payment to the elders who would help them arrange a wife for Omar.

Over the next few days, we continued our travels, visiting with BOMA Mentors and businesses and meeting with village leaders. Our final night was in Laisamis village and as we enjoyed a meal of our last bit of rice and cabbage with a few warm tuskers, word reached us that the elders had decided on a suitable wife for Omar.  Before we settled into our huts, I grilled Omar.

“Are you sure this is how you want to find a wife?” I asked him.

“Yes, Mama Rungu.  With this job I am traveling all of the time.  It is hard for me to meet women and I am too shy to ask them to be my girlfriend. My family will arrange a marriage for me and I am okay with this”

“But what if you don’t like the girl your mother picks out?”

“It will be okay, Mama Rungu.  She will pick a traditional girl and I know that I can take good care of her.”

The next morning we said goodbye to Omar who caught a lorry going back north.

The woman that the elders had chosen was very beautiful.  Omar was very pleased with their choice.  Unfortunately, the young woman was in love with another warrior and she used the threat of impending marriage to pressure the young man to marry her.  Which he did.  Omar was devastated.

But the story gets better.  In the meantime, a young woman named Soroy, from Lengima village, was about to be married off to a much older man.  Alone and frightened, she ran away from her village to Korr, Omar’s home.  They met, and Omar offered to marry her.  Unfortunately, the elders of Lengima did not agree.  They came to Korr, captured the young woman and brought her back to the village.  She escaped again, traveling at night through an area known for its lions and hyenas.  Again the elders took her back to Lengima.  Finally, Kura intervened.  He sat down with the elders for an entire night.  They talked, drank tea, and talked some more.  By morning the elders had relented.  The girl could stay and marry Omar.

By the time I heard the good news I was back in my farmhouse in Vermont.  Omar and Soroy had a simple ceremony in Korr and they have a room off of his mother’s house.  Someday they will have a big ceremony and Kura and I will provide the bull that will be slaughtered. I hope that I can be there for this joyful day.

When I called Omar to congratulate him I asked him, “Are you happy, Omar?”

“Yes, Mama Rungu. Now there is someone who loves me.”

Posted in Africa, African women, Kenya, Northern Kenya, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments