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Kenya: Maasai mothers conserve natural resources to educate their children (by Sawa Pius for Farm Radio Weekly in Kenya)

Beatrice Lempaire grew up in a pastoralist community in northern Kenya’s Laikipia district. But thanks to her mother and the other Maasai women of her community, she is now a university graduate.

In this semi-arid region, pastoralism has been a lifestyle for generations. Children living in Laikipia face many challenges, including access to education, health facilities, and clean water. But now, Maasai women are sending their daughters to school with the money they earn from conservation projects. Initiatives which conserve the wildlife and natural resources of this region are now serving women and their daughters.

In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the Government of Kenya instituted the group ranch approach in pastoralist areas. Land within a boundary is jointly owned by a group, who herd their livestock collectively.

Going forward, the communities had two basic needs: first, grazing land for their livestock, and, second, protecting wildlife and other natural resources. A conservation strategy was the best solution. Each group ranch divided their land into clusters. Clusters were designated for settlement, for conservation, or for grazing.

Instead of cutting down trees to make and sell charcoal, the women are now engaged in conservation and tourism projects. They construct traditional houses, made of sticks and dung, called manyata, which visitors and tourists pay to visit. They make beads, ornaments and aloe products for sale. The women also buy cattle, which they fatten and sell to neighbouring towns such as Nanyuki.

Young Maasai warriors no longer kill wildlife. Instead they share their culture by dancing and singing for tourists. The communities encourage tourists to stay in Maasai lodges and appreciate the elephants, buffalos, zebras and hyenas in the area.

The women save their money and use it as bursaries to educate their daughters. They also use these funds to help provide health care for their children and fund water conservation projects.

Beatrice Lempaire, who we met at the beginning of this story, is one of the young Maasai women who have benefited from the bursary scheme. She completed her secondary education and was admitted to a national university. As a child from one of the four ranches in the Naibunga Conservancy Trust, Beatrice qualified for a bursary. Thus, her four-year university fees were paid. After graduating, Beatrice returned to the community. She now works on the Naibunga Group Ranch.

She says, “I am happy that I have come back to the community as a manager of one of the umbrella organizations. We do capacity building − training women on governance issues. It is a lobby organization where we can talk about issues that will assist the communities.”

More than 75 children from the Naibunga Group Ranch have benefitted from the bursary. Three have graduated from university, Beatrice among them. Thirty have attended vocational training colleges, while 45 are in secondary school.

For Beatrice, conservation pays. She says, “Many of us could not have gone to school if it were not for these conservation issues where leaders have to put aside money for us to get [an] education.”