They live next the world’s most studied elephants, but for many years, Amboseli women were a forgotten lot. Most of them moved on with their lives in poverty.
But this might change soon after a programme to empower them was launched last week.
The Amboseli area is globally important and attracts some of the world’s best ecologists, and tourists.
The Imbirikani women group is now being empowered to diversify from the traditional agriculture and pastoralism to sustainable management of natural resources.
Under the pilot project, Amboseli National Park is being used to showcase excellent conservation partnerships between host communities, government, scientists, NGOs and international partners.
More than 500 women in Osiram, Siano and Makutano are benefiting from the project through beadwork.
Beadwork has been an important part of Maasai culture for many years and is normally done by women.
In the current project, women meet daily and work on beaded jewelry such as necklaces, bracelets, and pendants. The beadwork worn signifies an individual’s age and social status.
Individuals of high social standing will wear more colorful and intricate jewelry.
The group’s artifacts currently go for between Sh500 to Sh1,000 a piece, depending on the size.
Conservationists and scientists now bank on the project to also save treasured wildlife species from extinction.
Women are also set to benefit from local and international market for their artifacts as well as education in protection of wildlife.
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta said women are known to play an important role in conservation world over.
“This is why we are investing in women projects in this region because we can count on you to protect our elephants,” she said.
Kenyatta lauded the Imbirikani women group for taking up the challenge to pilot the ambitious project.
“These women have worked so hard on this project despite the difficulties they face on a daily basis – fetching firewood, collecting water, herding livestock, managing their homes, their children and families,” she said.
Kenyatta said for women to effectively play their rightful role in conservation, there is need for eradication of cultural practices that limit their opportunities and possibilities.
The group in Kajiado County is involved in an elephant conservation project sponsored by the Office of the First Lady, Wildlife Direct and the United Nations development Programme
The project is expected to provide an opportunity for alternative income generation, reducing the need for environmentally destructive practices as well as putting incentives to conservation efforts.
Kenyatta said the government is aware that the absence of rural women in the economy held back development.
“The campaign has made great strides in raising public awareness and mobilising support for the protection of our elephants,” she said.
Kenyatta lauded dedication and contribution of sisters Katito and Soila Sayalel in wildlife conservation. The two are elephants researchers within the ecosystem.
Amboseli ecosystem’s elephants are the most studied in the world.
Kajiado Governor David Nkedienye said “women particularly from the ecosystem have played pivotal role in the fragile ecosystem”.
Nkedienye said human wildlife conflict common in the area needs to be addressed if wildlife population is to grow.
Nkedienye challenged stakeholders including Kenya Wildlife Service and governments at both national and county levels to plan as the rising human and wild animal populations will increase conflicts in the future.
“Today’s success in wildlife conservation comes with challenges in the future,” he said.
Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu said poaching levels have gone down in the last three years as a result of high penalties and involvement of host communities.
Wakhungu said her tourism colleague Phyllis Kandie will closely work with the women to secure market for artifacts.
The CS said Sh235 million that will go towards compensation of human wildlife conflict had been disbursed.
Wakhungu said she will be keen to have a representative from the community in KWS board.
This is after area MP Katoo ole Metito said the community that has lived with wildlife for ages needs a representative within the board.
UNDP resident representative Nardos Bekele-Thomas said the project is in line with UN’s sustainable development goals as discussed in New York. Thomas said she will be glad to find the artifacts at international markets.
Biglife foundation predator compensation officer Daniel Ole Sambu said the bead project will have a multiplier effect on the community.
WildlifeDirect CEO Paula Kahumbu said the Maasai women are very creative and resourceful and with empowerment, they will go far.