2021 International Women’s Day Celebrations in Sagalla
“We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all.”
~ Professor Dr. Wangari Maathai ~
~ Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Winner ~
Happy International Women’s Day 2021!
Yesterday was International Women’s Day and we couldn’t be more proud for trying our hardest to support women’s empowerment efforts in Sagalla community. The 2021 theme ‘Choose to challenge’ is calling on us to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, pursuing dreams of empowerment with grit, kindness, inclusivity and humanity.
Women are more than half of the world’s population; responsible for every day environmental decisions concerning food, water, security and health. However, women continue to be routinely underrepresented in decision-making and leadership roles. Women’s empowerment and achieving gender equality is essential for our society to ensure the sustainable development of a country, for both its people and natural resources.
Women’s empowerment is the process of empowering women – creating power in individuals over their own lives, society, and in their communities. People are empowered if they have an access to opportunities without any limitations or restrictions such as education, choice of profession and in their way of life. Women’s empowerment is all about freedom for decision-making, equipping and allowing women to make life-determining decisions through the different problems in society. When focusing on coexistence between communities and wildlife, we have recognized that in order to uplift communities we need to support and empower the women, the backbone of most rural communities.
Supporting Sagalla women, The Mlambeni Basket Weavers
Mlambeni Basket Weavers Mwakoma is a group of vibrant women from Mwakoma village, Lower Sagalla, a village nearby to Tsavo East National Park. The name ‘Mlambeni’ comes from ‘Mlamba’ which is a Baobab tree. Mlambeni means being under the Baobab tree. Before construction of the Community hall by the Elephant and Bees Project, the women would gather under the Baobab tree and hold their meetings from there. The group was formed in July 2018 and has a membership of 40 women. Their vision is to improve their community’s standard of living. The group is made up of women of different ages who want to support their families, whilst also developing and improving their own skills and lives.
The group’s first income generating activity was sisal basket-weaving. Through our friends Hadithi Crafts and Wildlife Works, the women were inspired, supported and trained on how to make their traditional Taita baskets unique only to this region. Since the first training sessions in 2018 the women have been selling the baskets to Hadithi, an awesome, local organization supporting women’s enterprises with more than 1000 women across Taita Taveta: – https://www.hadithikenya.com. Basket weaving has not only helped increase the women’s household income but also provides a comfortable social setting where the women can bond and share their experiences and challenges. Often, they talk about the social issues within the community and try to find solutions for them whilst basket weaving, all the while improving their skills and weaving techniques. This sisterhood is the backbone of the community because as the women develop and becoming more economically empowered, their families and the community as a whole also develops.
The new ‘Mlambeni Ndovu Women’s Eco-enterprise Center’
In late 2019, after a huge campaign to raise awareness and support, we were thrilled to receive significant funding from our friend Jody Allen and her The Wild Lives Foundation to start construction of this space the women envisioned. After an epic construction project, the Center was completed in mid 2020 and now will serve as a dedicated safe space where the women can conduct all their different entrepreneurial activities. Since expressing an interest in different income-generating activities, the ladies have been learning new elephant-friendly enterprise activities to help diversify their income away from a pure reliance on maize farming.
Here’s a little film snippet of some of the activities and workshops that we have been supporting at the new Ndovu Women’s Eco-enterprise Centre in Mwakoma:
So far, we have had Financial Management training course with SOKO Community Trust, a Kenyan-lead organization that strives to improve the social, environmental and economic skills of local communities, by providing people with the skills to improve the quality of their lives and lift them out of poverty. The key area the trust focused on was financially training the women in order ‘to enable them to start different eco-enterprises that would empower them and increase their household income’. The training aimed at achieving this by providing the women with the skill set needed to reduce financial pressure, sustain them through a variety of income generating activities and enable them to become self-reliant. We have also had training on Enterprise Development Training with GoGrow Limited, a training engaging the women in entrepreneurship, bookkeeping and marketing skills, as well as a Sewing and Tailoring training, led by the Uwezo Wema Initiative.
Since last year, the women have proactively began making masks and producing soap. To date they have made 729 masks and 100 litres of handwashing soap.
Since completion, the Women’s Enterprise Center has been abuzz with excitement, and the women have been learning how to use the new sewing machines the E&B Team have installed. Through interactive and interesting training activities like this, the Mlambeni women are broadening their skillsets, invigorated by the possibilities for alternative income activities. The center also serves as a meeting place where these ambitious women can host workshops that can help improve their access to health resources.
We have also helped with the construction of the ‘Harmony Organic Garden’, an organic and productive green space where the women are using sustainable agriculture techniques to grow vegetables for selling and consuming. Not only does this help them with income, it is demonstrating alternative dryland farming techniques, which are hopefully trickling wider afield within the farming community and are methods compatible with our elephant conservation goals.
International Women’s Day 2021
Weeks of planning culminated in an event to mark the calendars – 2021 International Women’s Day.
Yesterday, 8th March, we have had a wonderful big opening ceremony and celebration for this new ‘Ndovu Women’s Eco-Enterprise Center’, involving the women in the planning of this event.
We had special guests from the KWS, Voi Wellness and Counselling Center, Hadithi, Wildlife Works, Africa Yoga Project, Hand-in-Hand organization, as well as esteemed elders and representatives from the Sagalla community, including a community health officer, Kileva school teachers, representative of Women Groups in Sagalla. with the County Women Representative from Taita Taveta Government, Hon Haika Mizighi, MP. A masked affair, the day included presentations, speeches of appreciation, gifts, stretching and lots of dancing! We had special performances from the Kileva kids choir and the Mlambeni-basket weavers group. The new ‘Enterprise Hub’ shop was officially opened and a huge hit,with the sale of lots of bags and baskets that the ladies had produced. It was such a wonderful day of celebration.
From challenge comes change. This week we are celebrating all the incredible women making a change in the world today. Women in conservation matter and women need to play a direct role in safeguarding the natural resources on which they and future generations are dependent, from the community level up to the highest levels of international policymaking and law. Women’s experiences vary and it is critical to have an intersectional approach to leadership in conservation.
We have so many thanks to give! Thank you so much to our amazing supporters from the Wild Lives Foundation, the EKCT Trust, and Disney Conservation Fund for helping both fund and inspire this Women’s Enterprise Center, and each element of the training costs and logistics. Thank you to our new Education Services grant for the sewing training support. A huge vote of thanks to the whole Elephants and Bees team for your energy and support, with notable mentions to Maureen Kinyanjui and the Women’s Enterprise Center Project Officer, Esther Serem for leading and inspiring the Mlambeni women on a daily basis.
Today, (and every day of the year) we are grateful for the unique contribution women bring to the table in conservation. There are still many big strides to go. But we are proud of the direction we are heading in. We are particularly passionate about supporting women living on the front line of human-elephant conflict in Kenya where they face dual challenges from both crop-raiding and the impact of a changing climate on agricultural outputs. Close to our homes and hearts, please do consider a donation if you would also like to support this wonderful and growing project! 🙂
Field Report by Education and Outreach Manager, Naiya Raja
Photos: Lucy King & Naiya Raja