Cultural shifts: women speak now

This post was written by Loretta Pilla, Anglican Overseas Aid.

The Road Less Travelled (TRLT) is an integrated maternal and child health and community development project working with nomadic pastoralist communities in Kenya and Ethiopia, led by Anglican Overseas Aid, Kenya, partnering with the Mother’s Union of the Anglican Church of Kenya and the Maasai and Samburu nomadic pastoralist communities in Laikipia and Samburu counties.

Focused on improving core maternal and child health outcomes, TRLT’s holistic approach involves methods that address education and literacy as well as improve access to water, food security, and sustainable livelihoods. The desire to achieve health equity through the empowerment of women underpins all activity. Three years since the project’s inception, the results are redefining lives and wellbeing, especially for women.

Where we used to stand

Planting seeds. Image: Matthew Wilman/AOA, 2012

Planting seeds. Image: Matthew Willman/AOA, 2012

The Maasai ranch of Tiamamut in North Laikipia, Kenya, is accessible only by an indistinguishable dirt road. Here, in this highly patriarchal society, men’s voices have traditionally drowned out those of women. Land and livestock, which are of paramount importance to the Maasai, are owned by the men, whilst women are afforded ownership of only a few products and resources, such as kitchenware, food, milk, chickens, and hides. The only possessions a woman can inherit are her mother’s ritual beads. Customarily, the viewpoint of many traditional elders has been that women have no rights and thus no role in decision-making within the traditional nomadic pastoralist social structures.

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Keeping track of The Road Less Travelled

We are pleased to announce the publication of The Road Less Travelled Annual Report for 2013-14.

Cover of Annual Report

The report provides detailed feedback about the impact of the project in Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as narrative stories of transformation and life-change. Of paramount importance is the engagement with, and benefit for, the most marginalised people within the project communities, especially women.

This is done through a strengths-based approach to community development, in which communities are at the centre of their own development vision and recognise and draw on their existing assets to achieve their development aims.

“People want to live a good life, so they see the value of our work in the community.
The level of knowledge in the community is slowly increasing.
People are beginning to change.”

Cecilia, a Community Health Worker in Longewan, Samburu County, Kenya

Significant progress has been made, with:

  • 2584 additional people having access to sustainable, safe water.
  • 3283 additional people having access to appropriate sanitation.
  • 506 additional people accessing a modern family planning method.
  • 1278 additional children receiving vaccines within the first 12 months of life.
  • 379 child deliveries occurred with a skilled birth attendant present.
  • 317,150 people received vital health education messages around measles, malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and nutrition.

“Mille hospital has changed the lives of mothers. There is less threat of abnormal presentations and good food is supplied to expectant mothers.”
(Response from a men’s Focus Group Discussion)

You can read the report here: The Road Less Travelled Annual Report 2013-14

Let our sisters learn

For pastoralist children in the isolated Afar region of Ethiopia, access to education has always been extremely limited. For girls, there is even less opportunity. The Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA), which began its first literacy program in 1996, is responding to the situation.

Since APDA started the literacy program, it has evolved to improve the coverage and quality of education in the Afar region, with an emphasis on education options that are appropriate for pastoralist children. While primary level education was being achieved in many areas through a combination of mobile and static education, the next challenge was to come up with a solution for how the children would continue their learning.

As an extension of the literacy program, APDA has been piloting a strategy that will ensure more girls gain access to education on an ongoing basis.

In the first year it was difficult to get girls into the student hostel, but over time pastoralist families have come to realise the benefits of giving their daughters the opportunity to learn. Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

The Road Less Travelled project partner APDA is working with remote pastoralist communities in the Afar Region of Ethiopia to increase girls participation in education.
Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

Through The Road Less Travelled, a partnership project led by Anglican Overseas Aid, APDA has established a student hostel in the town of Asayita. Pastoralist children from remote rural areas move to the town to live in the student hostel accommodation during the school term, so they have the opportunity to continue learning. The project supports the students to live while they attend the local government school from grade five onwards.

A key priority of the hostel is to increase girls’ participation in education – a challenge that has been met with some resistance from pastoralist communities. One factor that has helped to pave the way for Afar girls is the presence of the hostel house mother, Lako.

Lako is a mother from the same remote community as the students, and responded to APDA’s search for a volunteer house mother.

“They needed someone, so I said I’d go,” she says. “The best thing I can do is look after children. If our children learn, we can have a great future.”

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Mobilising communities in the fight for safe motherhood

Momina sits on the bed in the hut where she will give birth to her third child. The bed is a traditional Afar “oloiyta” made of thatched sticks and slightly raised. She is ready to deliver any day now.

“The baby has been moving around a lot,” Momina says. She is nine months pregnant, and is visited twice a week by a Women’s Extension Worker (WEW) from the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA) – the Ethiopian partner of Anglican Overseas Aid in The Road Less Travelled project.

Momina is nine months pregnant and waiting to give birth at home, with the support of a trained traditional birth attendant. Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

Expectant mother, Momina, is waiting to give birth at home in the remote Afar region of Ethiopia.
Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

The WEW has monitored Momina throughout her pregnancy, and provided antenatal care. However, this has not always been the case for women giving birth in the Afar region of Ethiopia. In one district surveyed by the project, 66 percent of women reported having received no antenatal care during their most recent pregnancy. (Read more in our Baseline Report).

As a country, Ethiopia has one of the highest ratios of maternal mortality in the world, in 2011 recording 676 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.1 For women in the Afar, the risks of injury or death during childbirth are even greater.

Due the remoteness of the Afar pastoralist communities and their nomadic lifestyle, communication, transport and access to health services has in the past been extremely limited or non-existent. There are also significant cultural or attitudinal factors that affect the care mothers receive during pregnancy, delivery and post-delivery.

APDA is improving the chance at life for Afar mothers and their children, by mobilising members of the community in the fight for safe motherhood. With a 20-year history working within the pastoralist setting, the organisation is uniquely positioned to facilitate relief and development activities that are relevant to the community, and implemented by the community.

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The work of the community

This post was written by Chris McKeon, Writer and Production Assistant at Arete Stories.

About three hours north of Nairobi around a high, rocky hill is a collection of small huts. They are part of the Maasai community of Naibor, in Kenya’s Laikipia region.

As well as the mud huts, there is also a small primary school built of metal sheeting and a track, carved through the red dust, linking it to the towns of Nanyuki and Doldol. The odd goat grazes along the side of this track and women can be seen trudging through the red dust daily with water containers on their backs. The lack of water in the community becomes increasingly apparent the closer one gets.

The dusty track that links the Maasai community of Naibor to the towns of Nanyuki and Doldol.  Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

The dusty track that links the Maasai community of Naibor to the towns of Nanyuki and Doldol.
Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

“We were in difficulties with water,” explains James Supa as he sits on a rock near the roadside. “In the dry season, mothers have to walk to the river or Doldol or Nanyuki for water. It can take a whole day to fill their buckets with water.” (Read our earlier blog post about the effects of the water burden on women in Naibor.)

The little water they do find is often contaminated by animals or can only be reached by digging in the mud where the river used to flow, five kilometres from Naibor. Supa acts as a link person between The Road Less Travelled project (TRLT) and the Maasai, to ensure any development activities are locally-appropriate and meet the needs of the community. TRLT is a project of Anglican Overseas Aid, which works in partnership with local organisation the Mothers’ Union of the Anglican Church in Kenya (MUACK).

In Naibor, the community identified the chronic water shortage as a key development challenge.  Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

In Naibor, the community identified the chronic water shortage as a key development challenge.
Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

Women of Naibor at a community meeting. The new rock catchment will mean less time walking long distances to collect water for their households.  Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

Women of Naibor at a community meeting. The water shortage is a burden that is felt most heavily by women, whose task it is to walk long distances on a daily basis to collect their household’s water.
Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

The past few years have seen increasingly long dry spells in the Laikipia region, and the water shortages have worsened. When TRLT started and a community development committee was formed, the people of Naibor identified the chronic water shortage as a key challenge, and appealed for support from the project to alleviate the problem.

After community discussions, the suggestion was made to use the local environment and build a rock water catchment to store water during the rainy season. TRLT supported the initiative, which made use of local labour and resources to build two low walls along the hill’s bare rock face, as well as a storage tank. The walls channel the rainwater down the rock face and into the tank for use during the long dry season, when water is scarce.

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