Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a two-part documentary airing this week on PBS. Based on the bestseller book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the documentary tells the stories of inspiring, courageous women who confront oppression and seek out meaningful solutions in countries from Sierra Leone to Cambodia and Kenya. The Daily Beast calls it “a delicate mixture of heartbreak and inspiration.” 


We’re gratified that BOMA is listed as a partner on the Half the Sky website, among recommended NGOs “doing great work to empower women worldwide.” http://www.halftheskymovement.org/pages/other-organizations

BOMA founder Kathleen Colson (far left) and Rebecca Lolosoli (far right) of the Umoja women's village in Northern Kenya.

The second part of the documentary, which is airing tonight (October 2), will feature Rebecca Lolosoli of the all-women village of Umoja in the Samburu region of Kenya. I have known Rebecca for more than twenty years and have worked with her to provide financial and institutional support in the construction of a school and a beading project that the women use for income. 

In early 2012, The BOMA Project  was invited to bring our program of economic empowerment to the women of Umoja, thanks to a family foundation grant. By the end of this year, more than half of the women residents of Umoja village will be BOMA entrepreneurs, enrolled in a two-year program of business-skills training and mentoring that helps them move beyond a dependence on an external market for goods. 

BOMA’s program is not a short-term Band-Aid. It is a long-term solution that includes a two-year commitment to every woman in our program. Through BOMA Village Mentors, we deliver business skills and financial literacy training programs to groups of three women who receive a seed capital grant to start a business. Our mentors work with each business for two years and help the women to form savings associations, so they have a safe and committed place to keep their earnings. All over Northern Kenya, BOMA graduates are earning a sustainable income, surviving drought, feeding their families, paying for school fees and medical care, and accumulating savings for long-term stability. According to our impact assessments, 97 percent of BOMA businesses are still in operation at three years.  

In the documentary, Rebecca Lolosoli, the matriarch of Umoja village, says, “…We want to own land, we want to go to school…we want to make our own decisions…we want to be equal.” That is our goal, too. Like the women in Umoja village, the women in our program are often the poorest and most marginalized members of their community. Graduates of BOMA’s program are no longer dependents on foreign interventions or aid: As small-business owners, they now hold capital – both financial and social. They have gone from being beggars to lenders, immediately raising their status in the community.

The BOMA Project goes to the hard places in Africa, where few organizations are willing to work. Our two-year commitment to bring women out of extreme poverty is an important part of the story of how women triumph over poverty and oppression in Africa. Josephine Kuraki of the Siligi business told us, “I used to think about who to ask for something. But now I don’t have to worry, because it is me who owns the business. I now come running to myself.”

That is what we want for the women of Umoja. We want them to have the self-confidence to run to themselves for their future. Thank you for supporting our work, and empowering some of the poorest women on the African continent. I hope you will be inspired, like we are, of the stories of women who triumph over poverty and oppression.