The last days of December are unusually quiet at Morijo-Loita location in Narok County. Unlike other rural areas in the Kenya that are made alive by City dwellers who throng their villages during Christmas, life in this nature endowed expanse seems slower and calmer. Perhaps, due to the sparsely distributed huts, popularly known as manyattas that lie kilometers apart from each other owing to the majestic Loita Hills which lie across the vast land and whose purity remains undegraded by mankind. The morning atmosphere smells fresh and clean and the chirping of birds perfectly synchronizes with the soft tinkling of bells tied around the necks of the residents’ cattle, signifying that all is well in the land.
Joyce Naramet’s homestead is a gradual climb to the foot of the last of the Loita hills, which overlooks the small Morijo- Loita shopping center. It is a compound of three newly decorated manyattas, two of which have their door-frames painted orange. On the left- hand side of her imaginary gate, are two goat-pens made of closely knit stick fences. Friendly smoke rises from one of the manyattas to the morning sky as Joyce and her daughter-in law, Sarah, start the business of the day.
“Karibu sana!” she motions to a group of visitors standing near one of the pens. “Make yourselves comfortable as I milk my goats. I will be with you in a moment so we can share a cup of tea,” she says as she waves a greenish enamel mug towards the bigger manyatta.
Her goats are her pride. You can tell by how she gently strokes each of them as she finds her way to the six nannies ready for milking. Each pen holds about ten goats, separated by age. Some are white in color while others are black or brown with white dots. Three goats appear expectant while one is nursing a few weeks’ old kid. “I will allow her to feed her young one before I start milking,” she quips with a bright smile on her face, momentarily pausing to reflect on how her fortunes have changed for over half a decade. On a good day she sells 3 litres of milk daily and one litre during the dry season. She humbly brags about how many visitors she has accommodated at her home during the Christmas season. “Being able to host visitors is considered to be a sign of wealth in the Maasai community,” she adds. “We no longer take black tea as we can now afford milk and I have something to offer them.”
When her husband died several years ago, life became a battle for survival for Naramet and her eight children, most of whom were of school-going age. As if by stroke of bad luck, the only cow and fifty goats she inherited were killed by hyenas rendering her to deficiency. They started living from hand to mouth, she was later unable to fend for her children. “Two of my sons were forced to discontinue their education as I didn’t have money for school fees. My relatives forbade me from tilling the family land so I would look for casual jobs which did not pay enough to feed my children. Many are the times we slept on empty stomachs”
However, her struggle to survive situation took a turn in 2017, when she received a donation of a female goat from Home Care International, a humanitarian organization based in Germany that funds education for children from needy and vulnerable families in different parts of Kenya, including Morijo. The organization was founded in 2006 to also run children’s homes in Nakuru and rescue centers for victims of gender-based violence as well as girls at risk of undergoing FGM.
According to HCI’s founder, Dr. James Karanja, the goat merry-go-round initiative was introduced, mainly to cater for the needs of single mothers and widows in Morijo, most of whom were adversely affected by poverty and discrimination by the community. “Through the help of friends and well-wishers in Germany, we raised enough money to buy fifteen female goats from Nakuru, which we distributed to the needy women.”
The unique project involves the rearing of the indigenous mountain goat breed whereby beneficiaries are required to find male goats for breeding purposes. According to Dr. Karanja, this breed of goats was selected due to their ability to adapt to the semi-arid area’s weather conditions and their shorter gestation period. They can also feed on natural vegetation, thus saving time and money. The goats beneficiaries are then required to re-distribute the offspring of the goats to other families run by widows and single parents. These families are selected by a special committee which comprises of elders from the local AIC Morijjo church, who also oversee the project.
While raising children alone is a daunting task for single parents all over the world, the burden is heavier for women from the patriarchal societies such as the Maasai community due to cultural beliefs and practices that place more value on male-led families. “The absence of a male head of the family makes such women vulnerable and leave them at the mercy of their male relatives, who assume control of their property and children. The women also lack a sense of belonging.” noted Dr James Ole Letuati, the presiding pastor at AIC Morijjo, and the chairman of the project implementation committee. He adds that as a result, girls from widowed or single-mother families face the risk of dropping out of school and being married off at an early age; while others face the danger of female genital mutilation. In Naramet’s case, she has had to fight off male relatives eager to marry off some of her daughters. “I want my girls to continue with their education in order to improve their lives.”
Nevertheless, within a span of five years, the goat project has changed the position of these women, as they are now considered worthy members of the community. “The Maasai view cattle and goats as a sign of wealth and the women now have something that helps add their voice in matters affecting this society.” For Naramet and other beneficiaries of the project, the privilege of affording milk for sale and consumption for their children is a sign of wealth. One of the highlights of her fortune was when she paid dowry for her eldest son using some of the goats from her herd. She also owns a cow and a donkey and runs a small hotel at the trading center which she set up using proceeds from the sale of one of her goats. She mentions that she has distributed two goats to some of her neighbours.
Naramet isn’t celebrating the milestones alone. This empwoerment joy also resonates at the nearby Ol-Joro Lesoit village, whereby neighbours Noololtei Tumis and Noonkuta Nkashu, both single mothers, also count their blessings after receiving female goats from the project. “I have been able to pay school fees for my children and the fact that we can have white tea for breakfast every morning brings me so much joy,” beams Noololtei.
Sadly, some of their neighbours have lost their goats to disease and secret sales made by their male relatives, a challenge that the implementation committee is seeking ways to overcome. “We recently recovered a goat that was forcefully taken to the market by a male relative to one of the women. Unfortunately, some members of the community still believe that women do not have a right to own property,” adds Dr. Letuati. In addition, the drought season experienced in Narok and other parts of the country threatens the survival of the goats and has also affected milk production.
According to the clergy, the committee will have a sitting in the course of this year to select other families that will benefit from the initiative. The project also provided cows, pigs and chicken to 50 families who were affected by the Solai Dam tragedy in May 2018 when the dam broke its banks and let its waters flow downstream sweeping across three villages of Energy, Solai and Nyakinya, resulting to loss of lives and properties.
This story was supported by Journalists for Human Rights (JHR)