|Mikelita with some of her community members|
Mikelita, the only educated in a family of 11 siblings in the new Loiyangani District along Lake Turkana, had travelled to Japan to share with other youth from other World Heritage sites across the world how her community was benefiting from lake Turkana and how they felt about any negative development that would be undertaken there. The 28 year old, has just completed her certificate course by distance learning from the Premise College and waiting for her certificate next year.
She is a single mother of two, and has been a Social Worker, volunteering with local community based organizations to improve the livelihoods of her community especially the women and youth. Among the projects that she is working on are: Peace and conflict resolution, environmental conservation and income generating activities.
She narrates of the efforts of the youth in the region of varied activities but end up giving up, due to lack of capacity and visionary lead to guide them. The Nanyori Youth Group is one such group which has a tree nursery and sells the tree seedlings to the community. The seedlings however will either die with the long dry and windy spells in the region or eaten by the livestock as they look for pasture in the vast arid land. Most of the arid has no vegetation cover and the soils are also sandy.
It’s a much bigger problem for the women that Mikelita works with. Loiyangalani, the name of her district, means "a place of many trees". But this is not the case: Including her own family, they walk for over 40 kilometres to look for firewood to prepare a meal, leave alone to dry the fish that they get from the lake, an income generating for most of them. Most girls have dropped, or are frequently, out of school, to help their mothers fetch firewood for the family. The community have not turned to cow dung for fuel, but since they are a fishing community there is less cow dung in their village.
Mikelita would like to help her community. For the women, she would like to get support the construction of improved cooking stoves for their kitchens. To upscale this, she needs technical support on growing high biomass and drought resistant trees in the region that will be a source of firewood in the region. These trees would also be multipurpose to meet other needs such as fodder for the animals, fruits for food, and source of construction materials which are all major challenges in her community.
Water is life, but Mikelita comments that water is either a source of life or death in her community. Ensuring access to water for the community would ease the pressure on the lake for fishing as the people engage in farming to diversify their source of food and income. Currently, there is a lot of pressure on this fresh water lake fish population; it’s the main source of food and livelihood for the Elmolo community. Overfishing and non illegal fishing methods are prevalent especially during the dry spells.
A few community members who have water have tried to farm and have succeeded in growing Kunde (Black eyed Peas). Mikelita says she would be very happy to support youth to start up such projects. The farming needs to be integrated with other land management practices like growing multipurpose trees, growing of indigenous and high value crops, grass regeneration and environmental conservation initiatives, to diversify the benefits and response to their challenges.
For the youth, they not only need to be better educated but they also need to build their capacity in leadership, and training on entrepreneurial skills that work for their community. Mikelita is already thinking of how to upscale the tree nursery project, train them to make the improved stoves for the community and engage in fishing activities and water projects in the region.
Even though there is free and compulsory primary education for all in Kenya, Mikelita’s community is not privileged to access this education. The new district has one secondary school only, 2 primary boarding schools and two more are in progress of being contracted. Most of the youth end up either dropping out of school, not attending at all, while those who attend have little if any skills, to enable them continue to better livelihoods in the society. Very few make it to tertiary institutions and if they do, their parents cannot afford and thus end up staying at home, if they don’t get any sponsorship. Mikelita is lucky to have gone to high school, and attained a grade that she has worked tirelessly in the fish industry to enable her pay for her distance learning Certificate course in Social Work and Community Development. Very few from her community have had such opportunities. She would like to see more support from the government to the education situation in Loiyangani District. The construction of 2 more primary schools is ongoing and she is happy about this. However, she is asking if the government and well wishers can also build another secondary school and a technical/polytechnic college for the youth who are not able to join the high school for where those who leave high school can learn extra skills to enable them earn a better live.
Ask of communication with the rest of the country, this new district has no post office; I had to keep remembering this, as Mikelita could not send me anything after leaving Nairobi. The only internet access point is at a Catholic Church, and every week, Mikelita, given the time, has to go request the Priest for permission to check her emails. She is even lucky that she has an understanding of computers and emails, Most of the people she works with in her district have not seen these computers. On mobile technology communication Mikelita’s community has to pay is an extra 5% charge for every top up credit airtime as a transport charge!
Working for this community is not easy. Mikelita’s major pain has been the youth who not only don’t have access to proper education, better social amenities, but there is also a major threat to their only source of livelihood, Lake Turkana- the Gibe III Dam Project.
|Mikelita's case being presented at COP 10 of the CBD|
Mikelita, like the Embassy of Germany and the Friends of Lake Turkana Group, are equally concerned about what would mean for these indigenous communities around the lake who still live their traditional lives depending entirely on the lake. While they have no idea on the proposed projects, they are quick to mention that a change in the lake levels would directly affect their lives.
Mikelita, through her social work in the region, educates the community not only on the need to use the lake resources in a sustainable way, but she also ensures that they are aware of such projects that would harm their lake. In conjunction with the German Embassy in Kenya and the Friends of Lake Turkana they have been supporting this community through environmental awareness and cultural activities in the region. They have held seminars and workshops educating the people on the pros and cons of such projects as Gibe III Dam.
However, Mikelita’s worry is not only on this project, but it’s also on the general up scaling of the community’s livelihoods so that there are reduced pressures and unsustainable use of the lake resources. She stresses that the aforementioned challenges of education, water, environmental degradation and trees need to be addressed.
After this meeting, I decided to do something to help Mikelita and her community.
This article is my first step. While I will be linking her work with what my youth movements have been doing around Kenya, I am in dire need of ideas how we can build the capacity of Mikelita’s community, and start up income generating sustainable projects with the youth there.
I am also in dire need of how we can initiate education projects for the non school going community that Mikelita is everyday trying to help.
I hear of many NGOs working in Turkana region, but they seem not to have reached Mikelita’s community, I am looking for those who would be interested in investing in this community and work with them. More so, on basic social amenities for the community: Education, Water, Sanitation, Education, conservation and Communication.
I have a strong believe in conservation education as a key to sustainability, leave alone the basics such as improved livelihoods. I would like to hear your ideas on how this can work in Loiyangani.
Finally, what are you going to do for such as Mikelita and her community this Festive season? Please share