A child in Lengima collecting stones for the building of the school.

We all piled into Gumps, the BOMA Land Cruiser.  Omar has now assumed cooking responsibilities in the field and he had organized a lunch at Joseph’s camp, a group of small bandas built at the confluence of three rivers.  I explained to my friend Sarah, who traveled north to see BOMA’s work, that this was considered the “Four Seasons” of the north.  We would be staying in accommodations with real beds, malaria nets, reasonably good running water and flush toilets.

After lunch, John Lesas, the BOMA Village Mentor for Ngurunit, was proud to introduce the BOMA businesses that were gathered under a recently constructed market building with a roof and open sides.  Some women were selling washing powder and small bags of sugar and tea.  Others were distinguishing their businesses with the sale of colorful lollipops and bright kangas.  I sat with the women and began my usual interview.

“How much money do you distribute to each other in profits?”

“How much do you have in savings?”

“What is the biggest challenge in running this business?”

“Would you like to have more training?  What kinds of training?”

Sarah had less than 24 hours in our district to learn about our work.  It would not be enough time to understand the complexities of a program that intends to help people adapt to a changing climate and an economy that could no longer rely on livestock for their primary source of income.  But I hoped that Sarah would come to appreciate the power that comes from owning a business for women who thought that their only source of survival was food aid.  It was my hope that we could convey, in this short period of time, our ultimate goal of transferring skills in a way that empowers.  We wanted to strengthen each woman’s view of the future, not only for herself, but for her children.

We left Ngurunit to travel to the village of Lengima, where BOMA and the Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation are building a school.  “School” was currently taught under a tree, with a blackboard and a volunteer teacher.  For most of the students, there were no desks, no chairs, no paper, no pencils – not a single thing that would enrich the learning experience.  The whole village was involved in the building of the school.  The men were used for the hard labor and each woman was asked to collect a pile of stones – equivalent to a wheelbarrow-size load.  They were paid 50 shillings per load – an amount equal to 55 cents.

The poverty in Lengima is extreme.  Many of the children had the tell-tale signs of kwashiorkor (protein malnutrition), with reddish hints in their hair and extended bellies.  All of the women were painfully thin. I was not sure what Sarah would think.  We have three businesses here in Lengima but they were struggling – with the livestock far away there was little cash in the economy to support our REAP enterprises.  There were also very few educated members of the community with a job who could send money home.  This is one of those villages that is chronically left out of the distributions of food aid.

Kura gave Sarah a tour of a typical Rendille hut and I visited with one of the three BOMA businesses in the village. Nalebicho Koitip, an older woman who leads the Nkabe business group told me, “This drought has taken our livestock and our husbands.  We are now the ones fully responsible for the children.  We keep them alive with the small profits we make in this business.  But it is hard because those without a business are turning to us for short term food credit.”

The sun was setting as we made our way back to Gumps.   In a touch of extreme irony, a vehicle pulled up to the village, loaded with bales of hay.

“What’s that for?” I asked Kura.

“It is for feeding the Grevy Zebras.”

A woman with a tiny baby wrapped in the folds of a kanga followed Sarah as she walked toward her side of the vehicle.  I did not recognize her and Kura said that she was not part of one of the BOMA businesses. She kept putting her two fingers over her eyes and then drawing them over her eyelids, closing them.  Sarah asked Kura what she was saying.

Kura told her, “She is telling you that no one sees her.”