Maasai women reap big from tourism

A manyatta guest room at Twala Tenebo Women Cultural Centre in Laikipia North. The units are owned by two women groups.

Before she joined a group of women to do business, Ms Gladys Meshami totally depended on her relatives for a living.

She had little control over her family’s wealth but her fortunes changed a­fter she joined a group of Maasai women in establishing an eco-village for tourism purely owned and ran by women.

Ms Meshami is among 206 members of Twala Tenebo Cultural Women group engaged in tourism investments in the expansive Munishoi group ranch at Ilpolei area in Laikipia North Sub County.

An amiable woman, Ms Meshami is excited about the changes happening in her life. She has been able to support her family and educate her seven children using dividends earned from the venture.

“We started the project 12 years ago and I have seen women supporting their families and girls being educated to university level through this project,” she said.

The eco-village comprises of rustic designed Manyattas for accommodation of tourists visiting the centre from home and away.

The tourist destination comprising three-bedroomed Manyatta guest rooms and a 500-capacity conference hall is located about 49 kilometers from Nanyuki, Laikipia County’s headquarter.

The mudded manyattas are smeared with cow dung to bring out the whole e? ect of the surrounding environment and a touch on Maasai culture. Meshami said she is proud to be among the women who participated in construction of the units.

“We built the units ourselves because we were focused to change the lives of Maasai women in Laikipia north and also the young girls who are at danger of the harsh cultural practices such as female circumcision,” she said.

Meshami added that it was easier for them as back home construction of a manyatta is a women’s role.

At the facility, about 500 metres from the entrance, Ms Meshami and her fellow women habitually welcome and entertain their guests with traditional dances and songs.

Twala Women Cultural Centre manager Rosemary Nenini.

Dressed in red and white striped Maasai attire, beaded jewelry guests join them in the entertainment session. They have listed activities introduced to their guests including baboon walks, cow and goat walks in the nearby Maasai homesteads as well as taking the guests through their cultural activities.

Maasai culture The facility is adequately equipped with tools used for any traditional activity among the Maasai to teach the visitors. The women ensure that any guest visiting the cultural centre is familiarised to the nomad Maasai culture from their accommodation to the activities carried out within and outside the centre. Baboon walks are done early in the morning and late evenings where the guests are walked to their sleeping sites within and outside the group ranch to observe their behaviors.

“We do cattle walks where our guests follow cows and goats and milk them before they are driven home. The visitors are also introduced to traditional way of making  re using sticks and also making beaded accessories,” said Rosemary Nenini, the facility’s manager.

Twala women have majorly depended on travelling organisations and other organisations located in Laikipia who refer tourists from abroad to the centre.

In a good month Nenini said they make about a Million and dividends shared among the women. The journey of empowering women through the project started with 60 members through the help of African Conservation Centre. Nenini noting that more women have joined them and many girls beneffiting through education bursaries.

“We have 186 girls in our education program and it is a major milestone to this community. Traditional, girls’ educating a girl was considered as waste of resources but we have changed the mindset and many girls have gone to school,” said Nenini.

Being a victim of outdated cultural practices, Nenini has become an activist in discouraging female circumcision, early and forced marriages and denied girl child education.

“We are determined to  ght the bad cultural practices and several girls have been rescued from forced marriages,” she added.

Initially, the 40-acres piece was land was donated by elders to the women a­ er persistently seeking permission to start up the venture.

“Traditionally Maasai women were not allowed to own land or livestock and getting this land was a big step for this business. Men have learnt to appreciate women empowerment and they have embraced this project,” added Nenini.

Pastoralists struggle to adapt to the devastating drought impact that leave their land dotted with cacti and shrubs but the women are determined to make a steady source to support their families and more importantly to empower the girls in the community through education.

Power and status Besides a better income and  nancial independence, the women have gained status and decision-making power within the community and the men seeing beyond women’s traditional household roles.

Their determination has attracted  nancial and material donations, trainings and partnerships initiated local and international organisations to help them upscale in production, value addition and marketing of beadwork products made at the facility.

Simon Mbuki of World Vision said the centre will be a bene ciary of the organisation’s program dubbed IMARA which is intended to promote resilience through natural resource management.

“We are targeting value chains that will bring more income to households. This area is fully livestock economy but we are looking for beadwork and eco-tourism as they have higher margins than other activities,” said Mbuki.

Bead working being an engaging task, Mbuki said they are looking at introducing new designs for bead products and give machines so as to reduce the time taken to make products and also upscale in production.

“We also intend to bring together women in the pastoralists communities in Samburu, Laikipia, Marsabit and Isiolo counties and merge their self-help groups into major cooperatives for easy banking and formations of marketing link,” added Mbuki.

Other income generating activities introduced by the women at the facility include bee keeping and producing aloe vera products.