On 28th November 2021, the Christian Women from Good Shepherd SVD Parish in Simanjiro gathered in Nadonjukin, one of 30 outstations for their forum known as Semezana Swahili for “Let’s talk”. In this forum, the women talk about the issues affecting them back at home and how they can help one another.
After the celebration of the Eucharist, they normally have an input on a selected topic on empowerment. Then they present their challenges and discuss possible solutions. Afterward, they write all these challenges on pieces of paper. The priest prayers over them and then the challenges are set on fire symbolizing their defeat. After that, they share a meal and after blessing, they go home.
This year’s Semezana focused on how women especially the Maasai Pastoralists can grow their own economy independent of their husbands who own all the sources of income in the family. It is important to note that in Maasai culture, women are counted as part of men’s property. Women do not own land or livestock (cows, goats, and sheep) instead, they have donkeys that they use to transport water from long distances.
In my input, I focused on an alternative source of income for women. The Maasai in general does not eat chicken meat because they regard it as a bird. While most men will not even stay close to a meal with chicken in it, the women have no problem even eating. I am allergic to red meat and when I moved first here, the people had a difficult time finding what to offer me when I visit the villages for mass. Normally one family in the outstations takes the responsibility of preparing meals for the priest when he visits for mass.
For the Maasai, to give chicken meat to a visitor and especially a priest is like an insult. However, after I explained to them my condition with red meat and that chicken was my favourite meat, they started preparing for me. Though some of them were keeping chicken before I arrived, many more started keeping.
For the last two years, I have been urging women to keep chicken both for food and as a source of income. The local chicken is commonly known here as Kienyeji chicken do very well. Men are not interested in chicken and so the women can sell and have some income for themselves. I too normally buy chicken from them for my kitchen. Many also give chicken as tithe and thanksgiving. This has turned around the economy of women here because there is no homestead without chicken as we speak.
The next project we talked about was Beekeeping. Here in Simanjiro, we have a lot of wild bees. Honey has been always on demand and people cannot produce enough. This too is not a concern for men and only women who keep bees. We discussed how to keep bees for honey on a large scale.
The Christian women have groups and leaders both at the outstation level and at the parish level. On this platform, they can start common projects, the income they get can be given as soft credit to individual women, and the profit shared as dividends. What they need is capital to buy beehives and training on how to rear chicken on larger scales.
Finally, we talked about food security. During the rainy season when there is plenty of grass, life is smooth. However, during the dry season like we have now, life can be very challenging especially for women. Though men are the ones who provide food in the family, during drought men are not seen in the homestead. While some go with their livestock to search for grass, others keep away from home because there is nothing in their pockets. The women have to source food for the children.
An average homestead has more than ten to twenty children and five to ten adults. Men care so much about the animals that during drought they give even maize to the cows. Note that though the economy here is based on livestock, meat is not a common meal in the homes contrary to the belief of many outsiders. On this challenge, we talked about how to find safe and secret places to hide foodstuff like maize and beans so that women do not suffer during dry seasons.
I strongly believe that by empowering women, the fate of the pastoralist community can change for the better.
Fr. Lawrence Muthee, SVD