COVID-19 was an eye opener to pastoralist women in Dallalekutuk, Kajiado￼
Kajiado, Kenya: Towards the tail end of the year 2020, Kenya was facing an unprecedented crisis as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Infection rates rose sharply, deaths resulting from health-related complications were also rising, the increasing strain on healthcare facilities that were ill prepared for a crisis of this magnitude was alarming.
In addition to this, the country’s economy was on a downward spiral as many businesses were shutting down, thousands of women who are breadwinners had no source of income to take care of their families. “In our community women bear the whole burden of taking care of their families, men move to look for Greener pastures. I was left at home to take care of my kids. With the COVID-19 restrictions I could not move to other places to sell milk”, Nasieku confides.
All schools were shut down indefinitely leaving thousands of children idle and unsupervised at home, this exposed them to potential abuse. As a result, there was increase in early marriages, teen pregnancies and Female genital mutilation within households in Kajiado county. In 2021 Kajiado county recorded a total number of 6,544 of teenage pregnancies and 639 FGM cases.
Kajiado County which borders Nairobi, Makueni, Kiambu, Nakuru, Machakos and Narok counties, extending to the Tanzania border points of Namanga and Loitokitok further south was majorly affected. All these are regions characterised by lack of rainfall and high temperatures. When the first COVID 19 case was confirmed by the Ministry of Health in Kenya on 12th March 2020 a participant mentioned that the perception amongst Kajiado county residents was that the virus was only spreading in Nairobi County.
The COVID 19 lockdown and quarantine measures have negatively impacted the crafts and curio businesses largely owned and operated by women in Kajiado County. The women who sell their wares to tourists and business people have been left without a source of income following the ban on international flights and restrictions on travel within the country. Additionally, those who moved from one county to another to supply their cattle produce such as milk and meat were all affected by the COVID-19 restrictions. The products could not move as fast as they did. Moving across counties, the beef and dairy sectors which contribute significantly to the country’s economy have slowed down. With movement restrictions and a 7pm to 5am curfew in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, this affected their economic status.
As the pandemic spreads through the world, shattering national health systems and economies, a global response to help pick up the pieces has never been more essential. The pandemic has remained a chance for women to come together and create opportunities during crises. The crises boosted innovations with emerging new ideas which are meant to address the gap in the economic system. Being the bearers of the whole economic burden, a group of women in Dallalekutuk ward-Kajiado County came up with an initiative that was meant to help in the sealing of the economic fracture.
Ole Katoko initiative is an idea for Dallalekutuk ward-Kajiado County women which helps them to contribute weekly for their survival. Women who are members are expected to contribute from Ksh 250, 750 and 1000 shillings. They were able to sell milk and bead wear in order to make their weekly contributions. With the current drought situation in Kajiado county a lot of them are not able to make their contribution since they no longer have milk to sell and beads have become expensive. “We cannot compare this year’s contribution to when we started, a lot of us are burdened with loans. Our cattle have died and we no longer have any economic hustle to support our initiative,” says Kasietu Sironka.In 2022 December, the group had contributed slightly over 850000. They however say this year could be a bit harder as the economy is not doing well and there is a sharp decrease in milk production due to droughts. Between January and March 2023, they have raised 12000 only. A clear depiction that 2023 might not yield as much. This initiative has seen them survive during and post the pandemic. Since its inception, the group has attracted over 500 women. The group’s leadership however says that it is not closed, new members keep flowing in as returns are really convincing.
Salvaging the shopping basket.
The sole purpose of this initiative was to fight economic punctures caused by COVID-19 pandemic. Shopping baskets within and out of Kajiado county were shrinking due to high poverty levels and an obvious economic turbulence brought about by the pandemic. With this initiative women being sole breadwinners among the Dallalekutuk community got unleashed from the burden of filling the shopping basket.
“Things were tough even before the pandemic due to endless droughts and poor agricultural performance in the area. When COVID-19 struck, we were really shuttered and basic things like food and clothing were becoming more of a luxury than basic needs. This initiative was a life changer as we can now put food on our tables without much struggles,” said Kasetu Sironka.
School kids are also beneficiaries of this initiative not leaving even those that their parents are not members of the initiative. The initiative has a package meant for providing food to primary and elementary schools regardless of whether learners are children of members or not. This has motivated many kids to stay in school as they can focus on studies as opposed to when they are hungry. The initiative has provided this voluntary service to over 10 schools.
Ole Katoko initiative is an education wheel
“The initiative has propelled many kids from feeble economic backgrounds to schools. Many kids from such families would not have seen school doors, were it not for this initiative”, says Naponu Kikwa.
Currently the organisation is sponsoring close to 100 pupils in various public schools. They opted for public schools because they fit the budget of their income.
The other reason is the need to cater for other essential needs in their homes. This group also offers soft loans to non-group members of the community in the form of education centered loans with a sole purpose of educating their children. However, the rate for members is lower than that of non-member borrowers. Esther Nasieku is a beneficiary of education centered loans. “During COVID-19, I was not able to pay for my daughter’s School fees. Thanks to the Ole Katoko initiative,I was able to complete the payment of my daughter’s school fees.”
Water and pastures.
Being a pastoralist community, water and pasture are worth every day’s struggles. Women suffer the burden of quenching people and animals’ thirst in their homestead. They walk miles away to look for water and pasture for their animals. This initiative came in as a healing thought for the situation. “Right now we buy hay and water for our animals as opposed to walking miles of distances in search of pasture and water. It has also saved us from the fact that there was a movement restriction declared by the government in an effort to curb the virus”, said Esther Nasieku.
This has also brought down incidents of clashes among community members who have in the past fought over pasture and water. There is enough supply of water and pasture women do not miss out on their appointment with doctors as they no longer have to go away from their homes to look for water. Pregnant women are the major beneficiaries of this initiative as they visit clinics without failure. According to Ole Narau dispensary data, over the last two years clinic attendance absenteeism has come down to 10% as opposed to the past years which had over 50% courtesy of the nomadism.
This story was produced by Nancy Oseur with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Nancy Oseur and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. You can reach her through:email@example.com