Salaash, one of the founders of Oltumo, Laura, the president of our Board, and myself returned to Kenya at the end of December, excited to get back to the Maasai Mara and see the growth at Oltumo! But first, we needed some inspiration from another similar project with a bit more experience behind it, so we went straight from the airport at 11pm after a 24 hour journey and drove 3 hours to visit Laikipia Permaculture Center (LPC). This project was started by Joseph Lentunyoi, a Samburu man (different but also very similar tribe to Maasai) who has built up the site to be a source of hope, inspiration, and education for people all around East Africa and even the world.
The first day there we went to visit some women's groups that are supported by Joseph and LPC. I had previously completed a Permaculture Consultancy course and had visited these sights in early 2016, so was eager to return as I knew the energy of these women and their work would inspire both Salaash and Laura. We stopped at a small church on the way where a women's group makes their soap for use and sale using locally grown Aloe Vera. The Samburu woman explained to Salaash (their languages are very similar) how it is done and he was so impressed! A group of "uneducated" women had created their own amazing product from a natural resource with just a bit of training and support from LPC. Fantastic.
After this short visit we went to the Umbrella project for the other women's groups and were welcomed by a song and dance from the women who reside there and maintain the site. Their song was beautiful and their own, all about how they grow Aloe, do bead work, and host tourists so now they can earn a living without relying on their husbands as much.
After this we had a tour of the site and had the time to sit and talk with the amazing woman that has been the backbone of all of this, Rosemary. She discussed with us the trials and lessons of how to organize groups, encourage commitment, and to keep the husbands happy even if their wives are doing things that they can't really comprehend. She really was a guiding light for our project and we are now using her lessons as policies for working with Maasai groups around Oltumo.
After a night here we moved on to the last sight, and the most environmentally degraded land I have ever seen. The erosion is unbelievable, so much so that what looks like massive rivers are in fact just gullies formed because the grass is gone and trees can only hold onto the earth for so long. Here the women are beginning a tree nursery, gardens, and also growing Aloe. They also had a beautiful cob building with them by a group of French students that I am proud to say I connected them to because Oltumo was not ready to host such a large group.
In this land where women report to eat only one full meal every two days in the driest times of the year, the strides they have made since I was here under a year ago are really incredible and I have hope that they will continue and eventually find comfort in this most challenging of environments.
Back at LPC we celebrated the New Year and talked more with Joseph about his project and what we can learn and transfer to Oltumo.
The greatest advice from him was to not push anything onto the Maasai. He made it clear that although many things are possible, it will take time and only the ideas which they see happening and think to themselves "I can do this" are the ones that will be capable of becoming a reality. This takes commitment and dedication from our Board in Canada to persevere and continue to find the funds to keep our staff happy and working hard on our demonstrations to create a site where inspiration and knowledge transfer through physical and real-life demonstrations is possible.
We had learned a lot, now it was time to make our way down to Oltumo and find out how to transfer this experience to the Maasai we are here to support.