Edit: This is a funded project--we have enough for both the store and the bee keeping project to go ahead! The store walls are up, actually, and bee keeping training has already happened... see updates for more info! You can still donate to the project if you want... and if you do, I will make sure that 100% of your money makes it to these women, for things like a broader inventory for the store, etc.
Twenty years ago, the Oltumo Maasai women lived sustainable lives. Maasai are nomadic people, who have lived off of the land and their large herds of animals for centuries.
Then, the Kenyan government issued land titles to the Maasai territory... dividing it's ownership amongst the Maasai men. The Maasai could no longer be nomadic, moving to where the weather was good for their cows. Add to this the recent changes brought on by climate change, and the challenges get worse. The recent droughts killed half of most peoples' cows, and the remaining animals are thin and weak. The Maasai have come to understand that their traditional ways of life will have to change.
The Oltumo women's group tells me that when faced with these new realities, they realized that they needed to do what Maasai women have done for centuries--find strength in each other. They began holding meetings, at which each woman contributed around 20 cents (30 if she came late), and began to painstakingly, slowly, grow their resources. They were able to purchase beads, and make jewelry to sell at the market. They were able to register as a self help group, and open a bank account. But the progress of their entrepreneurship collective has been incredibly slow. It hasn't been fast enough to keep up with the immediate needs to educate and feed their children.
Several of the women draw income from market day. They go to the wholesalers, strike bargains to borrow merchandise for the day, spend the entire day hauling and haggling, and then head home with around five dollars in their pocket. It's exhausting, and not enough--market day only happens once a week, and school fees alone cost around 25 dollars per child, per term.
This group has a dream--to open a tiny store at the site of the local well. They have permission to use the space, and they have a plan for what to sell and to whom, and how to staff it. All they need are the start up funds. They've been saving, 20 cents at a time, but they are a long way off.
They need three hundred and twenty five more dollars. Then, instead of a couple of them travelling huge distances to exhaust themselves once a week at the market, they could each take shifts at the nearby well, keeping an eye on the store as they get water, tend to their community garden plot, and watch over their children. And they would make more--enough to build the business over time, and to meet more of their basic needs.
With another thousand dollars, they’d be able to add honey to the materials they’re selling. The Oltumo Project has recently donated enough money for beehives and some training to teach them how to manage those hives, but they dream of also processing and properly packaging that honey to sell to nearby hotels and tourists (they’ve done the research and have a solid business plan—there is a definite market).
When I asked the women how they found the energy to keep going against all these obstacles, one woman tells me that they do what they've always done. They find strength in each other. They remind each other to attend meetings every two weeks, and remind each other to keep fighting and keep hoping. They form "investment clubs" where they all meet to pool their money to meet the urgent need of one member each month.
Oltumo means "coming together" in Maasai language.
I want these women to have the money they need to make these plans a reality for these women. I want you to join me in reaching out to them the way they've reached out to each other. Please give what you can.
Normally, when you give to a not-for-profit, a large percentage of your money goes to overhead. To staff, advertising, fees. Because that's what it takes to run an organization.
Because these women live beside the Oltumo Well, the Oltumo Project will donate any administrative time needed (from their staff), as well as let the women use space beside the well. I will personally pay the go fund me fee on your transaction, and the processing costs for the online donations, and even the bank transfer to get the money into these women's hands.
Every penny you give will go directly into the hands of these women.
Every. Single. Penny.
These women dream of things like houses with iron sheet walls rather than cow dung. Of education for their kids. Of having enough economic power to stand up for their daughters' rights to marry when (and who) those daughters chose. Of women being able to leave husbands who beat them, and have the power to make their own reproductive choices.
If you hear about these women in the news, and are at a loss to know what to do, you aren’t alone. This is your chance to put a small amount into the hand of a woman with a dream, a plan, and a community alongside her. This is your chance to join in making a difference that will grow over time.
The “over time” bit is the best part. The Maasai have decided that the group doing the store will repay that money as the store thrives, and then it will be lent to other groups in turn (the group that wants beehives to make honey to sell is next in line). The Oltumo committee, which has been running for quite some time now, will oversee it's continued reinvestment, so that your contribution will help many families, many times over.
Join me in walking with these creative, brilliant, hard working women.
- Elizabeth Weston
- Fulgence Ndagijimana