Kenya’s Ogiek Women Conquer Cultural Barriers to Support their Families

Kenya’s Ogiek Women Conquer Cultural Barriers to Support their Families

NAKURU COUNTY, Kenya, Sep 22 2014 (IPS) – Just two years ago, Mary Ondolo, a 50-year-old mother of nine from Kenya’s marginalized, hunter-gatherer community the Ogiek, used to live in a grass thatched, mud house. She’d been living there for decades.

But thanks to a donation of livestock and equipment she has now been able to send four of her children to local universities and colleges and has been able to build a timber home for her family.

Ondolo is from the small village of Mariashoni, in the Mau Forest, about 206 kilometers northwest of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

“I no more rely heavily on my husband for basic household needs. In fact, my husband has numerous times asked for my help financially.” — Agnes Misoi, member of the Ogiek hunter-gatherer community

For decades Ondolo and the women of her community had been denied opportunities, choices, access to information, education, and skills, which was compounded by the cultural perception that women are mere housewives.

But a donation of livestock and equipment made to Ondolo and a few other women in her community changed their lives by giving them a steady financial income and, as a result, a role in decision making.

At the time, Ondolo had been trying to get the other Ogiek women to form groups in order to pool their resources and rear poultry together.

It all started after she visited a friend outside her locality and realized the many problems the women of the Ogiek community faced, compounded by the deeply-rooted culture and gender disparity. She mobilized 30 women in a savings cooperative.

“Members would put their monthly money contribution into a common pool,” Ondolo said, adding that members were entitled to borrow loans for as little five dollars.

Her idea attracted the attention of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Programme (OPDP), a local NGO. The OPDP in partnership with Kenya Community Development Foundation helped them start poultry and beekeeping enterprises.

So in 2012, in the small village of Mariashoni, a group of 80 women gathered at an open field surrounded by the indigenous Mau Forest to receive improved indigenous chicks, poultry-rearing equipment and feed. They also were given honey-harvesting equipment, 40 beehives and skills training.

Ondolo said that, at first, the women who engaged in beekeeping had to overcome their own community’s cultural barriers against women earning an income. But now, she said, they all are major contributors to their families.

“My husband’s source of income comes from small subsistence farming. But thanks to the beekeeping project, I have been able to help my husband pay school fees for our children. Two are in university and two are in college currently, and the others are in primary and secondary school,” Ondolo said.

By Robert Kibet, IPS, Edited by Rita Murphy.

Disclaimer: This article does not imply endorsement or partnership with any specific organization.

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