Updated: Jul 25, 2022
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Rosemary Nenini’s story is that of determination and resilience. Rosemary’s dreams and ambition to grow into a phenomenal woman was interrupted just before joining high school by early marriage. Through hard work, dedication and the love for her community, she beat the odds and has since paved the way for other women in her community to levitate into improving their communities. This is a story of passion and an unapologetic boldness in building a community through advocating for change.
As we make our way into Naibunga Upper conservancy, we are welcomed by the women of a community so rich in culture. They happily sing, ululate and dance to celebrate our arrival with their faces full of joy and a genuine sense of pride that can only be seen among victors. Among them is the zealous Rosemary. As Rosemary takes us around the Twala Women’s Center, she proudly narrates her life story and how she elevated two hundred women above a patriarchal system built to only invest in men and silence the voices of women. She proudly narrates the impact she has made in Naibunga Conservancy through Twala Women’s Group by building a range of sustainable businesses and becoming part of a global supply chain network.
Rosemary was born into a pastoral community who are known to move from one location to the next in search for pasture for their livestock. Her family was no different and as a result, she was forced to transfer from one school to the next more than three times. This instability to her education did not stop her, she always emerged among the top performing students in her academics. It was quite unfortunate that a young girl with so much potential forcefully underwent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at the age of 10 and forced into marriage before she could complete her high school.
Rosemary was fortunate enough to resume her studies and complete her secondary school education when her husband gave in to her request to go back to school. The Masaai Community is known for its strong patriarchal systems and orientation that has been seen to stunt the growth and development of women as well as silence them. A woman’s word is rarely valued in this community that is still growing out of misogyny. Rosemary therefore encountered numerous challenges and backlash in her pursuit for education and dream of becoming an early childhood teacher, mostly from her in-laws after her decision to return to school. Her personal encounters and challenges made her realize that the women in her community were so silenced that they could not even develop a relationship with their fathers or speak to them directly, just for being women. She later developed a passion for transforming her community into a safe place for women to grow into their highest potential and where they could be heard. This caused her to change course and rethink her career path. After completing her early childhood training, she set up an initiative to empower women to became a champion of change in her community. As much as she knew all too well the challenges she would go through and that her plan seemed over-ambitious in her community setting, the disparities she had experienced as a girl with a passion that kept burning inside her, gave her motivation to finally champion the rights of women in Naibunga Conservancy through formation of Twala Community Women Group.
Twala Community Women Group started in 2017 with a group of 60 women, today it boasts of over 203 members. The impact has been so incredible since the men and elders of the community have endorsed them and encouraged all the women of Naibunga Conservancy to became members. The initiative, which started on small piece of land, now sits on a 40-acres with various agricultural and cultural activities in conservation efforts. However, this did not happen by lack and neither was it a walk in the park. Rosemary and the original members faced ridicule and restrictions meant to set them up for failure. The group’s persistence and dedication proved that the harsh critics were wrong and they eventually earned their deserved respect. Today, they have implemented successful programs ranging from revenue generation, conservation efforts, empowering women and sponsoring girls’ education, which have all been successful and evidently impactful.
Twala Women’s Group has been on the forefront in the agricultural conservation in Naibunga Conservancy. They produce bio gas from the invasive Opuntia cactus as a way of managing its growth. The biogas is then used in cooking food for all visiting tourists in the Twala Women’s Centre. The kitchen facilities are also open for use to women to cook for their families as they interact and engage in various activities. Twala Women’s Group is an authorized supplier and exporter of the medicinal Aloe Vera plant. Having been authorized by the Kenya Wildlife Service and certified by Laikipia permaculture, they produce Aloe Vera in large scale twice a year and export it at the cost Ksh. 380 per kilo to Lush cosmetics Company in the UK. As bee keepers, the women are also certified to process, package and distribute bee produce to a wide network of markets. Profits and dividends shared among the members have enabled the women to educate their children and build modern houses and expanded independent businesses.
The Twala Women’s Center is simply a hub of revenue-generating activities and conservation practices. A beautiful area filled with trees and vegetation planted by women, some to preserve the environment and to add to the general aesthetics while others, for food. In the cultural conservation section, there are Maasai Manyattas and modern Maasai cottages for tourists. The cottages can host more than 12 guests at ago with some extra amenities to accommodate visiting families. Visitors get the opportunity to not only experience the culture but also explore traditional cuisines with produce fresh from the group’s green house. The farm produce is also sold to the community. The Center also has a hall that is used for various activities by the group. Sometimes, the hall is hired out to the local government, politicians and other interested groups at a fee. The Twala women are also involved in beadwork, which has immensely contributed to the success of the group through the sale of jewelry and other artefacts to visiting tourists from neighboring conservancies and guests.
Rosemary acknowledges that through conservation efforts, the Naibunga pastoral community is venturing into alternative economic empowerment programs. Adopting modern methods of conservation which include, deploying rangers and other security resources have reduced insecurity as well as environmental pollution. Through Twala Women’s Group, the FGM has reduced in the conservancy. The women who were formerly tasked with the responsibility of circumcising young girls have since transformed and resolved to focus on beadwork and other efforts towards empowering and mentoring girls instead.
As we come to the conclusion of our interview with Rosemary, I sought to know the secret behind the success of her initiative, she said “Never give people free things, teach them and show them how to fish, they will appreciate and ensure they protect their sweat. I would not be here if I had received free money. While starting this program, I did not have any money. I approached Dr. Shirley Strum of Ewaso Nyiro Baboon program for money to support this initiative. She only agreed to support me by training me to take tourists to baboon tours and then donated a troop of baboons to the group to use for the tours. Initially, i was afraid of baboons but after thinking through, I agreed to undergo the training program which should have lasted six months but ended within three months since I was a fast learner.
Am proud of the decision since we earn most of our income from tourists coming from Ol Jogi conservancy during the baboon excursions. Speaking of Ol Jogi conservancy, they were among our first partners who supported our initiative by providing fencing equipment to provide security against elephants and other dangerous animals. Dr. Shirley also apart from donating the baboons and training us, she sourced for markets for our beadwork to help generate revenue that helped us to start off our program. Other partners that have been instrumental in ensuring our success include our very own Naibunga Upper Community Conservancy and World Vision among many others. Today our centre is used a case study to showcase women successful programs from across the Northern part of Kenya including recent guests from Tanzania.” Rosemary gives credit to all women who have been committal in ensuring the program is effective. She is happy that the pastoral community is touching the lives of many families and the trickle effect is tremendous. Many children are now going to school and women are more empowered and aware of themselves.
Rosemary only dreams of a community where more girls and boys from her community have complete access to quality education, empowering them towards competing for equal opportunities without being referred to as ‘marginalized’. She believes that, when granted equal opportunities, they can fight for inclusion and representation in the government without banditry approaches as witnessed previously. She strongly advocates for ranching to avoid the movement of livestock from one location to another as this will ensure that no child’s education is disrupted.
Laikipia Conservancies Association Chairman, Kip Ole Poles, who spoke to us during the visit applauded the efforts of Twala Women’s Group. He reinforced on the need of replicating such successful programs in red-zone areas plagued with cattle rustling, FGM and famine. He concluded by saying, “Laikipia has rich natural resources that we can all protect for our posterity “.
Before Rosemary walks us off, she shows us her books where she notes down her future plans and ambitions for her community as their business grows back to normal after the COVID pandemic. Conservation has proved to be the currency of posterity in Laikipia.
Why Twala Community Women Group Is An Inspiration.
-It was established in 2017 with 60 members, later growing to 203.
-By 2019 they made 3,134,589 shillings:
i. 70% from yearly earning goes to members in form of dividends which are divided bi-annually
ii. 10% Bursaries and education related programs.
iii. 20% wages, salaries and office operations.
-Since the beginning of the program 200 students have accessed bursaries from the program.
i. 150 girls have received bursaries with a termly supply of sanitary towels and writing materials.
ii. 50 boys have acquired bursaries and other learning materials.