17 July 2018

The amazing women of Emali

ChildFund's Programme Manager meets some extraordinary people on a visit to Kenya.

By: Quenelda Clegg, Programme Manager, ChildFund New Zealand

The women of Emali, Kenya, are amazing because they are in the midst of making real and lasting change for their children in their community. 

Emali is a challenging place to live — it only rains twice a year and the land is very dry, making it difficult to sustain farming and provide nutritious food to children every day. In May, however, the first rains of the year were so strong that parts of Emali flooded, destroying homes and crops. When hearing of such an extreme weather event, it can feel very unfair that a community that needs rain so badly ends up receiving it in devastating quantities.

At the end of June, I travelled to Emali to monitor the projects that are funded by the New Zealand Government and the generous New Zealand public. Today, there are more than 3,000 New Zealand-supported sponsored children in Emali and our partners — ChildFund Kenya and Emali Dedicated Children’s Agency (EDCA) — work hard to deliver much-needed support to these children. In addition to sponsorship activities, two very important projects are also being implemented in Emali.

Funded by Kiwi families, the Nutrition Project grows vegetables, such as beans, tomatoes, kale, and spinach in greenhouses, and kumara in extensive plots because of its high density of vitamins and minerals.  

The Agriculture, Dairy and Economic Development (ADED) Project, funded by the New Zealand government and Kiwi donations, has just completed its first year of implementation. This four-year project is remarkable because community members in Emali identified that they have land, cows, and crops, but they need to take their farming to the next level in order to provide for their children. 

This aspiration of parents is something that really resonates with me because I witnessed this drive in my mother when I was growing up. Today my siblings and I marvel at how our single mother worked extremely long hours while also caring for us, feeding us, and supporting our education. It is evident that parents are the same all over the world and just want to give their children the best chance in this world. 

This project, with the help of Kiwi families, will support farmers to create dairy and moringa enterprises so that they can sell their produce at the local and national level, in order to give their children the best start at life. A significant feature of the ADED project, however, is that women are the focus as they are being supported and empowered to be the leaders of this work. This is because, as UN Women explains, “Gender equality is not only a basic human right, but its achievement has enormous socio-economic ramifications. Empowering women fuels thriving economies, spurring productivity and growth.”

It is for this reason that 75 percent of the cooperative members — for the dairy and moringa businesses — are women. This is not to say that men are not allowed to participate, the project includes husbands throughout all activities, it is just that women are taking the lead in these businesses.

So while I was in Emali, visiting projects and meeting farmers, governments and research institutes, I got to hear what is involved in delivering quality projects that support children’s education, nutrition, and well-being.  One key thing I noticed at these meetings is that women always turn up; they want to hear what is happening, and they want to be involved. This is important because when talking to these mothers and grandmothers you learn how much they do in often very tough circumstances.  Also, their homes are spread across vast distances and they do not have vehicles to so they often walk long distances or find some form of transport.

Further, these amazing women are seriously energized, engaged, and motivated about the opportunities to farm and create new business.  For instance, when visiting a communal moringa crop, on our arrival the women Maasai farmers were singing and dancing, and thrilled to show us their hard work.  Despite the challenges of living in a remote and dry area of Emali, these women are seizing opportunities and making incredible change.  For instance, when the rains came at the start of the year they did not hesitate to get out in the rain to dig and plant their moringa seedlings themselves, and are now ready harvest this crop in November. 

In addition, at the children’s school, these women ensure that a group of them tends to the kumara plot every day, they also plant and care for the vegetables inside the greenhouse, and then help to cook and feed children at this school. What’s more, the Maasai women are the primary carers of their children, and they also look after the dairy cows at their homes, which means they are milking them day and night to provide milk to their children and calves.

Emali is also home to the Kamba people.  This ethnic group is distinctly different from the Maasai in that they have small individual farms, and only keep about two cows on average, and have small crops.  However, like the Maasai women, the Kamba women are driven.  During my visit in Emali, I met a Kamba farmer, Fiona, who had a small block of land, grew about five moringa trees, kept a vegetable garden, and has now bought some goats.  She said she just tries to keep doing one more thing every year to improve her farm.  She is slowly building her income and is determined to make a difference for her children.

So when leaving Emali, I could help but feel inspired by these women.  They are grabbing every chance to make positive and lasting change.  I also feel really confident that these women will build successful dairy and moringa businesses because the team in Emali is extremely passionate, dedicated, has a lot of expertise, and they are encouraging all members of the communities, including government and husbands to support these women to achieve their goals. 

Over the next three years, ChildFund New Zealand will be raising funds for this project.  It is extremely exciting that Kiwi families are supporting strong women to make real change in Emali. Click to learn more about how you can help.

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