Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Rainfall Trend in Marsabit

 by Tim Wright

Famine is very serious in parts of Africa, including in Marsabit, where Sauti Moja implements development projects in food security and family health.  This year, we were able to lobby Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB) and Emergency Relief and Development Overseas (ERDO) for five-month food assistance to 750 female-headed households who had been beneficiaries of our livestock loans. This is providing needed food for their children and ensuring that these mothers do not have to sell any breeding stock in their small herds in order to buy foodstuffs. We are thankful for such support!

SM distributed food relief to 750 feale-headed households.
SM distributed food relief to 750 female-headed households.
However, I have been concerned about global warming and the anticipated impact on crop and forage production affecting our project areas. Various climate models indicate that these arid and semi-arid areas will be more frequently affected by drought. This concern led me to review 67 years (1950 – 2016) of precipitation data from Kenya Meteorological Organization for Marsabit.  I wanted to determine whether or not there has been a change in risk of famine due to droughts causing crop failure and reduced forage production contributing to livestock deaths.

To put Marsabit drought concern into context, there are dry periods every year, as rainfall is bi-modal; there are the ‘short rains’ of October through December (median = 287 mm) and ‘long rains’ from May to June (median = 375 mm). On average, 86% of the annual precipitation occurs during these two periods. During these dry periods, most livestock, other than camels, do not produce milk. Those households with some source of income and/or livestock for sale are able to purchase foodstuffs; others are usually supported by the extended family. Short hunger periods are ‘normal’ for many pastoralists.

 My data analysis confirms that, in spite of year-to-year fluctuations in precipitation, the reduction in annual precipitation during these 67 years is statistically significant. For the period 1950-1969 (19yr data), median rainfall was 775 mm; for 1970-1989 (18yr data), 704mm; and for 1990-2009 (17yr data), 603 mm – a 22% reduction in precipitation over six decades, and subsequent years have been even worse. This is of considerable practical consequence in relationship to crop and forage production.

Livestock, such as cattle, are highly-susceptible to drought.
Camels can be milked through periods of drought.

When I estimated risk of crop failure due to drought, I found that, in more recent decades as compared to earlier, it quadrupled, increasing from 10% to 43%, during the long rains. This is usually the better season to grow maize which requires more precipitation than beans. There was not a significant change in estimated frequency of crop failure during the short rains, though of course, rainfall then was usually too risky for maize production.

Estimated frequency for a harvest of maize and/or beans

LONG RAINS (median = 375 mm)
SHORT RAINS (median = 287 mm)
No harvest
No harvest
1950 – 1981
1982 - 2016

 Climate scientists predict and locals recognize increased variability in precipitation. Marsabit and similar areas may still have some seasons of high rainfall that are conducive to crop and forage production. However, what is especially serious is back-to-back seasons of low rainfall! The Horn of Africa suffered serious drought in 2011, when hunger was widespread. The current drought began in June 2016, and to date, there has not been significant rainfall, which devastated crop production in the last two growing seasons and provided little forage for livestock. The next rains are expected in the October to December period, so food assistance will be needed until at least until December 2017. 
More frequent drought is reducing harvests.
Some rainy seasons produce good maize crops.


Recognizing this new reality for pastoralists, who live on the front lines of global warming, could lead to despair, but various economic changes will help mitigate this climate change. Improved communications and roads, improved livestock marketing, increased vocational training, and decentralization of government are contributing to new livelihood opportunities. Nevertheless, adaptation is a long process, so these communities will still require support and donors should not be surprised that food assistance will be required from time-to-time.

We reflected upon the primary role of Sauti Moja, and confirmed that we will contribute to adaptation in this livestock-based economy by continuing to support the shift to more drought-hardy livestock as well as provide donkeys to help women access water from long distances. We will also continue to support education and technical training leading to employment for marginalized youth, provide family health training (family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention, and child health and nutrition), and facilitate peacemaking between communities in resource conflict.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Peace Experiences

by Elema Guyo                                                                                                                             

Elema's touching testimony for peace submitted to Sauti Moja. 
Those of us living in Songa (a Rendille community) and Badassa (a Boran community) have often experienced tribal-based conflict - theft, livestock raids and killings. I became a victim of these conflicts, as I was born to a Borana family living in Leyai, a sub-village of Songa. It wasn’t always so. 
Peacemakers are everyday heroes with a compassionate hearts and a gentle spirit.

 I attended Songa Primary School, and as children, we didn’t know the words tribe or ethnicity. We classmates lived like brothers and sisters not differentiating who is Boran or Rendille. During our free time, we herded goats together, played together, and shared everything in common. In school, we were desk mates, dorm mates and team mates. At night, we would sometimes sneak to watch warriors’ traditional songs, but the next morning, we were caned by the teachers. When not herding on the weekend, we might walk to town together through the forest not knowing who is Rendille or Boran, as the forest road was very safe apart from wildlife. 

All of a sudden in June 1992, our peace life was destroyed. A Rendille, Kidakhan Eisimbasele, was killed while herding livestock in the forest. (This was the husband of Gayero who is presently is one of our peace widows supported by Sauti Moja.) In retaliation, Rendille warriors attacked the Boran homesteads in Leyai, where we lived. The few livestock that we had were taken, properties were looted, homes were set ablaze, and our ripening maize fields were chopped down. The Boran community of Leyai - about 70 households – fled to safety; we went to Badasa which is only a few kilometers away.
In revenge, the tribal clashes began and spread all over the Marsabit region. There were many livestock raids, hundreds of people killed, and the entire farm land around Leyai and other centres near the forest were abandoned and become bush. The long childhood friendships that we used to enjoy were no longer there; we no longer shared our childhood social life as before. There was no longer free movement and interactions, and the forest road that had been so safe saw many being killed. (On November 21, 1994, as we were returning from Marsabit and the one-year anniversary of the death of Father John Asstegiano, Mirgichan, a Rendille, who was walking in front of us, was killed.)  Mothers would scare their children by saying, “if you want to die go to the Badassa or Songa forest’’. Many felt like life was not worth living, as peace and friendship was replaced by fear and killing, but those of us who were not used to this kind of life didn’t give up. 
Peacemaking only requires a heart and desire to see a better life, plus a motorbike.

The old friendships did not die in our hearts even though our communities were at war with one another. Sometimes, when it was calm for a month, Rendille friends used to sneak from Songa to Badassa to visit us, and we did the same. However, when there were some skirmishes, we had to immediately rush back, but the problem was that some in our communities thought that we were betraying them. I experienced this in 2003 when my fellow Boran community wanted to finish me, because my old Rendille friends visited me several times, and I welcomed them in my home.  

It was on Sunday, May 25th that I returned to my plot from church and went into my grass-thatched house to sleep, as usual. All of a sudden, I was awakened by a neighbour screaming. I looked up and flames were burning the thatch above me, but people came around to rescue me and the household items. After serious investigation by the police, the culprit was arrested and arraigned in the court. When the arsonist was asked why he wanted to burn this person, the answer was obvious - ”He is an enemy, as he harbours our enemies from Songa and Leyai. I was sent by my community to burn this enemy house, so that means I am not alone.’’ The harmful acts of those who are not pro-peace was upsetting, but that did not destroy my spirit for peace. I still promoted peace and volunteered as a teacher in Leyai Primary School, and I took my livestock to Leyai to be looked after by Rendille; I had a dream that peace would come, some day.

Another time, a boy from Leyai happened to be in Badasa doing casual work when a Boran herder was killed and his livestock taken. Armed with guns, spears and other weapons, many rushed to the scene of the raid, and some men raced to the Rendille boy in Badasa. Some men ran after him until he disappeared in a miraa plantation; some young men were assigned to guard the road out of that place, as they wanted to kill him in revenge. In the dark, the boy sneaked to my house for safety, where I kept him in my bedroom for two nights and two days. Still believing the boy might be in my residence, the young men were patrolling the paths to my home, but my family and I kept the secret to ourselves. On the third night, we disguised the boy as a Muslim woman and took him to the Badasa Administrative Police camp to be escorted to his Leyai home.

 In the Year 2011, there were some new opportunities for peace to come. First and foremost, some of us who are peace-loving Christian church leaders were trained on conflict resolution by Shalom Peace practitioners invited by Catholic diocese of Marsabit. Then, we came together and set a strategy on how to mobilise the conflicting communities to come together and talk. We became peace ambassadors around our homes and in our local churches. 

Sauti Moja's peace program started with livestock.

We concentrated our peace activities on areas that were considered hot spots for conflict; these were Badasa/Songa and Hulahula, which are the locations where Sauti Moja has focused its peacemaking. Those of us who happened to be in the Shalom Reflection Group attended the mass conducted in these areas, and gave the congregations the message of peace and transformation.

Another opportunity for peace was when Catholic Justice and Peace began a cash-for-work project of de-silting a well between Badassa and Songa using casual workers from both communities. At first people were hesitant, as they did not trust each other. As first, they only sent able men who could protect themselves or run away, if a war might break out. But, as the days went by, they began to send women and youth, as they discovered that the other tribe was not as aggressive as they expected. By the end of two months, people were already interacting and becoming friends.

However, the most remarkable interaction came when Sauti Moja began its peace intervention with widows of conflict from Badasa and Songa communities. From the initiation of the program, I was privileged to be involved as a volunteer in these peace activities. This peace work rooted in our traditional conflict resolution mechanisms had been disregarded or forgotten by most of the population. People had been blinded by modern governance systems that see anything tradition as totally barbaric, which it is not. The cultural peace-making that transforms the community is one of the successful mechanisms in the olden day. The pass on of livestock to the other tribe has facilitated the community not only to develop individual friendship but to unite families. This family unity and interaction across ethnic groups is the one transition community members began to see as good.

The family interactions initiated by widows of conflict encouraged community leaders to come together and solve some of the imminent problems. They made common regulations set by them, where cases of stealing are highly fined without much involvement of government authorities. These are already fruitful, as several stolen livestock from Songa and Badassa were returned, and culprits were fined by their own communities to pay back the victim of the raid. Stealing and rustling has totally stopped.

"Peace is what I looked for even when my life was endangered."
Now relationships are so strong that people attend to the other tribe’s ceremonies even beyond Songa and Badasa and without support from Sauti Moja. Social and economic activities are commonly shared; for example, the Songa men and women who were unable to afford to go to Marsabit town to sell their products – milk, vegetables and livestock - have a market in Badasa. In return, the Rendille from Songa can buy everything they used to buy from Marsabit in the Boran community of Badasa. Thelivestock initiative and peacemaking began by Sauti Moja started with assistance for widows but has spread to the whole area. It is the happiest moments of peace for all our communities and the leaders.

For me, these are the happiest times, as I began to re-join most of my childhood friends. The peace in our environment and both communities has been restored. People are no longer under the bondage of fear and mistrusts; there is an atmosphere of peace, everywhere. During any peace meeting, every leader who talks about peace will not sit down without saying that Sauti Moja has small projects with big impacts in the region, especially on peace. I am very encouraged by that and thankful to be part of the team that brought what I longed for.

Peace was what I have looked for even when my life was endangered. Now, I am one of the happiest men, as my long-term objective for peace has been obtained. I really thank God for this grace of peace in my locations and for my people. Also, I appreciate all the peace stakeholders - specifically Sauti Moja and the donors who facilitated this program. Last, but not the least, I give thanks to Sauti Moja Canada's Founding Director, Tim and his wife, Lyn, through whose efforts and dedications the peace program have succeeded this much. God bless them all.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Elema, Seven Years Later

by Tim Wright

February 12th was one of those incredibly rewarding days!  I wish that I could actually share the experience and my joy with all of you.

In August 2008, the Sauti Moja volunteers introduced me to Elema, a widow with three children, none of which could go to school due to lack of money. I agreed with the staff that hers was one of the most desperate situations that we had yet encountered. Elema and her children squatted on a relative’s land; their ‘house’ was riddled with holes; and the only means of support was occasional handouts, including relief food. The family was in a state of despair, and we determined to do something in spite of being convinced that our response was inadequate – perhaps just appeasing my conscience a bit.

Elema outside her home with her 3 children back in 2008.
As rainy season was approaching, Philip bought plastic sheets to put over her house to keep the rain off and allow them to sleep at night. We enrolled Elema in the livestock program, providing her with a donkey and four nanny goats. We used the photo of her and the children in an appeal for food aid during a drought. Thankfully, many from the Sauti Moja community responded, so she and other hungry families received some support.

Over the past six years, I lost personal contact with Elema and many of the original recipients of animals.  I wondered about Elema whenever I saw her photo on my computer or discussed progress in her village, Qachacha. Frankly, I was afraid to ask about her, specifically, feeling too embarrassed about not having done enough.

Thursday, we took a visitor to meet the women from Qachacha, and to hear about the results from our livestock and animal health support over the past years. I recognized so many faces. It was good to hear how donkeys had greatly reduced their workload; how goats provided milk and males were sold to pay for school fees, food, clothing, medicine etc; and how they were paying off their livestock loans by giving female offspring to other widows with young children. As usual, these stories felt good, and made us proud of these mothers and the good work of Sauti Moja Marsabit staff.

After the meeting, I hesitantly asked Philip, “Do you remember Elema? Whatever happened to her?”  He laughed, “She was in the meeting. Didn’t you see her?”, and then, he called her. How could I ever have recognized this well-dressed, happy woman who was overflowing with gratitude?  She told us that her goat herd has multiplied well, and she has paid off her loan. Her donkey has relieved her burden of fetching water for herself and other women in the community. Her children have nutritious food, and she can afford to send them to school. Her housing has improved….. I ‘never’ choke up, but it was all that I could do to hold back tears of joy with seeing Elema after so many years of fearing the worst for her and her children.

Elema with Tim and Philip on that special day.
I ‘never’ choke up, but it was all that I could do to hold back tears of joy..."
I was not satisfied, so Lyn and I arranged to go with Philip to visit her home and learn more. We found that she had moved to another village on the land where they had lived when her husband died.  She told us that a man had chased them off the land, as she was a widow with no livestock and the land was good for grazing; this is why we had found them squatting on relative’s land. However, when she received livestock from us, she was now chased from the relative’s farm, but fortunately, her home village intervened and made sure that she could return to the land that was rightfully hers. And, it is great land for raising goats and donkeys.

Philip, Tim and Elema in her grazing area with her donkeys.
We walked to the grazing area with Elema, and her two girls rounded up the livestock. We found a pregnant jenny (female donkey) and another male donkey. (One female colt had been killed by a hyena.)  Elema told us how the donkey reduces her workload so much. Her round trip to get water varies from 6 to 10 hours depending on the season and supply of water in the wells, but her back is saved!  She talked about a past drought when she and her friends used to lift her weakened donkey up in the mornings so that it could get out to graze and drink water.  Like other women she is a great steward of what she has been given.

Now, after paying off her goat loan, Elema has a buck and four other males that can be sold for income and to meet household needs. In addition, there are nine female goats of breeding age, and there were three kids.  In the past, she has sold three males for school fees and food.  When she was particularly unhealthy a few months ago, they had butchered one to have meat.  (I calculated her livestock wealth to be more than $1300.)

Elema is proud of her goats and said that receiving livestock
was a big psychological boost.
What has this meant to Elema? She said that receiving livestock was a big psychological boost, and at that point, her problems were left behind. This was a new start for her and the children.  Before, no one had liked her, as she was a burden; she was not even strong enough to get casual labour weeding fields.  Now, she has milk to sustain her and her children, she is a respected community member, and she has been able to send her son to school.  In her words, “God has blessed us”.  Her joy indicated that she truly meant it!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Martha - A Mother to Many Children

This Mother’s Day, we are pleased to recognize Martha Bone, who is exemplary of the type of local leaders – ones with vision, passion and expertise - that Sauti Moja chooses to support in ministry to their communities.  Martha demonstrates these qualities, as she coordinates our vulnerable youth program in Kenya.  

Martha tending to a young mother and baby.

Martha tells us that she originally had a mindset that when girls got pregnant outside of marriage they were just bad people, but through her interactions as a community health worker with young girls, her perspective changed. When she learned that the root cause was a combination of girls’ lives in poverty, lack of power in relationship with men, naivety, and lack of basic information about reproductive health, her heart filled with compassion. As a mother of a young daughter, she wanted to reach out to these girls; they shouldn’t have to lose out on an education and these children, many of whom were chased from home, should not bear the burden of child-rearing alone.

Child mother and toddler growing-up healthy, resilient and educated with Sauti Moja's support.

It was Martha’s vision and passion that inspired Sauti Moja to establish the Child Mother program.  Sauti Moja Marsabit supports school girls – several as young as 14 - to realize their dreams through educational or vocational support, while providing counseling and ensuring good health care and monitoring for their children.  Reproductive health and life skills training provide the information they need for good decision-making for themselves and their child.   

Martha’s timely intervention and care for these young moms and their babies, has been an inspiration for the girls’ own family and community.  When mothers realized that their ‘disgraceful’ daughters were being loved, cared for and supported by a person whom they didn’t know, these mothers began welcoming their girls back to their home community and began caring for their daughters’ babies.  In reference to Martha, a child mother said, “God has blessed you to be a mother of all these children from our diverse communities.” 

Martha is one of the original founders of Sauti Moja Marsabit and was supporting child mothers even before the organization was formed in 2010.

Unfortunately, there have been challenges, like girls dropping out of school after re-enrollment or having a second pregnancy. However, as the girls are becoming increasingly empowered through reproductive health training, and as they learn more about the consequences of their decisions, school drop outs and second pregnancies have greatly reduced.  Now, thanks to Martha vision, passion, and dedication, many young girls have now graduated from school and are able to support themselves and their child. This has contributed to change in community attitude toward young mothers; they see that there can be a promising future and a career for a young girl who has had a baby.

Prevention is the key, and now, primary girls are educated on reproductive health and life skills.

Martha’s care for the vulnerable has led to a new vision for other vulnerable youth, including orphans and deaf children.  In the last two years, at the request of parents, teachers and girls, sexual reproductive health and life skills training is being provided to primary girls in order to prevent early pregnancy, empower girls and support their educational goals. But, she is not stopping there, as now, at the request of teachers and parents, they are beginning to deliver similar training to school boys.  This certainly is evidence of how a mother’s vision and passion can extend beyond the home and transform the lives of many children.

It was a happy day when Martha presented Grace with her own sewing machine after she graduated from her tailoring course.

For this Mother’s Day, Martha expressed a wish that all mothers would be appreciated and loved no matter how young they are and that all children would have the opportunity to realize their dreams.

Click on the following link to see a Sauti Moja Vulnerable Youth program video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlxaBHHp0J0