UMOJA: THE VILLAGE


Umoja was the original focus of our work and therefore important to understand its past and present.  

Umoja is located near Archers Post and the Samburu National Reserve in the Samburu District of Kenya. It was granted a patch of neglected dry land. It is a hot and arid area characterized by a parched landscape of hills and plains. The campsite it operates is located on the banks of the Uaso River, the lifeblood of the area and hence its incorporation into the name of the cooperative.

PAST

In 1990, 15 women,allegedly raped by local British soldiers, and led by Rebecca Lolosoli, formed and registered the Umoja Uaso Women's Group with the then Ministry of Culture, Heritage and Social Services. They started by selling beadwork and other goods. After facing threats from men jealous of their success, the members decided to found a women-only village and reside together, thus providing collective security and cooperation.

In Rebecca’s own words: “we started with mobile—manyatta dukas—shops where they sell their wares, particularly, maize meal and sugar. But it did not succeed. Two years later, we changed to selling traditional artifacts to tourists. Our efforts did not escape the eyes of the Kenya Wildlife Services who took us for an educational tour to Maasai Mara to sample tourist products there. Immediately on return, we embarked on an ambitious project of cultural manyatta and campsite, which we depend on for income. We decided to sell our beadwork to tourists and market our village as a tourist attraction.

We saved for months for the down payment, it cost 200,000 shillings ($2,700). After we applied for the land, men came and beat us saying women should not own land. They said this was because of me and that they had to shoot me to get their women to be women again. The women prevailed, applied to the Kenyan Government to be certified as a cooperative under the name The Umoja Uaso Women’s Group.

The group also dedicated itself to informing women about their rights, their health (for example, by encouraging pregnant Umoja residents to receive prenatal care), and helped them start income-generating activities. Last, Umoja cooperated with UK human rights lawyer Martin Day to have the rape cases investigated and brought to trial. These investigations are ongoing.

As the group's members prospered, more and more women joined. As many as 60 women have lived in the village. The women are free to come and go depending on their needs. Indeed, we have record of at least two groups leaving en masse. The first was in 1995 when a group left to form their own village nearby known as the Nachami Women’s Group.


PRESENT

Just recently, over half of the women left to form another village nearby.  They named it Unity. Our foundation responded to this exodus by restructuring our methods of disbursing funds so that our partnership is directly with the women of Umoja. We also expanded our operations so that the women who departed to Unity would continue to receive some support. The issues of leadership and infrastructure continue to be a challenge to Umoja. The foundation in partnership with the BOMA Project is training the women to be self reliant and economically independent.













 

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