Community at the core of development

This post was written by Mothers’ Union Project Officers in Kenya, James Senjura (Laikipia) and Sarah Lansanyane (Samburu), and Africa Program Advisor for Anglican Overseas Aid, Phillip Walker.

At the heart of The Road Less Travelled’s (TRLT) community development work in Kenya are the Maasai and Samburu nomadic pastoralists. The project uses a strength-based approach, which is based on the understanding that each community has its own skills and assets, and often unrealised potential, which can assist them in identifying and achieving solutions to the challenges they face. While certain activities require specialist facilitation and access to external expertise, the aim is for all members of a community to become central in making the decisions that affect their lives. This puts them in a position to drive their own development agenda.

In Kenya, the communities TRLT works with have some history of engagement with aid organisations and consequently hold expectations of financial handouts to solve ‘problems’. Previous interventions have mostly, not completely, been based upon an outside agency providing resources and expertise, with the community making a counterpart contribution, usually labor. Any project committee formation has been non-inclusive and short-term; that is, lasting only until the project is completed. Often the existing (predominantly male) power structures have filled the role of a project committee.

For The Road Less Travelled, the formation of inclusive Community Development Committees (CDCs) is a cornerstone of the project. This represents a significant change process in itself for these communities, as for the first time they have an inclusive developmental structure to voice their issues.

Daniela, a TRLT Link Person in Samburu, Kenya, meets with the Community Development Committee twice a month to discuss their development priorities and progress.  Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

Daniela, a TRLT Link Person in Samburu, Kenya, meets with the Community Development Committee twice a month discuss their development priorities and progress.
Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

Before the CDCs were formed, the TRLT Project Officers visited each community, obtaining permission from authorities and traditional leaders to proceed. They held meetings to discuss the project and its aims, along with the role and function of the committee, and the criteria for its formation. This process culminated in a community wide meeting where the CDC was elected.

At least 40 per cent of the CDC must be women; however this is an inadequate measure, given that cultural norms often result in women remaining silent and deferring to males for key decisions. To combat this, the project team has been working patiently to strengthen the confidence and ability of elected women to take active leading roles, as well as promoting women who already have the confidence to challenge male authority. Literacy training has helped women overcome the constraints that prevent them from being actively engaged when minutes are taken or written materials distributed.

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