Retrogressive cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early child marriage have, over the years, entangled women in Laikipia County in their pursuit for economic empowerment and advancement in education.
But a group of 200 Maasai women has unchained those traditional practices by venturing in ecotourism, an activity that has immensely improved the local economy, attracting the envy of their male counterparts.
Twala Women Group was started in 2007 with a membership of 60 women basically to pull their financial resources together and empower themselves. But shortly after, they came up with an idea of setting up Twala Tenebo Cultural Centre at Il Polei trading centre in Laikipia North Sub-county.
Over the years, the women have transformed the community through local tourism by promoting positive attributes of the Maasai culture.
Their work was recognised, earning them 40 acres of land donated to them by Il Polei and Monoshoi ranches, where they later put up the cultural centre.
The centre has solar-powered accommodation facilities for visitors and a modern conference facility that can host 300 guests.
Ms Rosemary Nenini, the group’s manager, says the women have divided themselves into six subgroups of about 30 members each, where they take up different roles.
“They entertain visitors, teach them about the Maasai culture, make and sell ornamental beads and other traditional artefacts,” she says.
Ms Nenini adds that the group has started other income generating activities such as bee-keeping and growing of Aloe Vera plants used in making cosmetics.
“We received a donation of 100 beehives from the African Conservation Centre (ACC) and on average, we harvest 1,000kgs of honey twice a year and sell locally,” Ms Nenini says.
The group has since secured a market in the United Kingdom for the Aloe Vera plant products.
“A cosmetics manufacturing company in the UK expressed interest in the Aloe plant products we produce and now buys the raw materials directly from us,” she says.
The group’s chairlady, Ms Cecilia Ekere, says they subdivide their dividends twice a year to enable them sustain their families.
Pay school fees
“Our women have stopped reliance on their husbands for financial boost. This humble initiative has enabled us to comfortably pay school fees for our children and buy livestock to substitute our income,” she says.
“This was not the case before we started this group since majority of Maasai women are not economically empowered.
Recently, Ecotourism Kenya (EK) trained the women on how to precipitate their efforts of promoting local tourism through cultural exchange and environmental conservation.
EK Chief Executive Officer Grace Nderitu, says the one-week training, which was held at the cultural centre, was meant to enlighten residents to understand the benefits that can be accrued through local tourism.
Ms Nderitu adds that involvement of the local community is crucial in boosting local tourism.
EK, in partnership with World Vision, trained the group on hospitality industry.
“We have encouraged the women to take tourism as a business venture so as to realise economic growth at the grassroots. Most of them have managed to get employment from this cultural centre in terms of products and services they are selling. This is encouraging,” notes Ms Nderitu.
The cultural centre offers accommodation facilities ranging from manyattas to three bedroomed houses where they host up to 20 guests at a go, and also have camping facilities for tourists.
Ms Nderitu says training would immensely empower the group to run the facility as a sustainable tourist outfit.
The group’s vice chairperson, Magdalene Pois, acknowledges that the training was timely and would enable them run the facility professionally and smoothly.
So far, the Twala Women Group have entered into business partnership with Beisa Hotel based in Nanyuki, to ensure visitors enjoy the getaway and camping experience at the centre.
“This training has empowered us to handle more visitors at the centre and are now looking forward to attracting more tourists for culture nights events in future,” says Ms Pois.
Beisa Hotel director Gilbert Mutembei says the partnership has enhanced mutual benefit since the centre benefits from visitors recommended to it, while the hotel has an avenue for out-of-town experience for its guests.
World Vision Laikipia branch manager Simon Mbuki says his organisation is keen in supporting communities, especially women’s organisations at the grassroots engage in income generating activities for sustainable livelihood.