After our stop in Lengima village, we drive the two vehicles out into the vastness of the Kaisut Desert. Low trees and scrub bushes dot the terrain, broken only by cone-shaped volcanic hills and dry river beds. The huts of the nomadic villages, dark in color and low to the ground, are barely visible until you are within a few meters of the thorn branch fences that surround the village. When you finally come upon a settlement, there is always a feeling of discovery, as if you are one of the first outside visitors to come upon this place. What we encounter as travelers in this remote territory is far from what the original explorers experienced but many of the same hazards remain: malaria, sunstroke, eye infections, water borne diseases and the torment of mosquitos, scorpions, deadly snakes and flesh eating ants. This is not your tourist’s Africa.
I have accepted few visitors to travel with me because I have a hard enough time caring for myself. Now, after being considerably humbled by my 2 month tropical malady, I am more attentive to the circumstances that will keep us all healthy as we travel from village to village in order to photograph BOMA’s work. Each day is a careful calibration of measured activity. We work in the optimal light of dusk and dawn and then take breaks during the day. Despite the many liters of water that we drink, our bodies remain hungry for fluids and we add powdered electrolytes to our water bottles to stave off dehydration.
Enroute to our next stop in the village of Korr, we stop in Ongeli village, the home to our recent EARTH University graduate, John Lomurut. We visit with the business group in the village and have tea with John’s Mom. Nearby, a pile of stones marks the grave of John’s father who passed away just 4 weeks before John graduated from EARTH in December. Traditionally, a village moves its location if someone has died in the village. In the case of an elder, like John’s father, they will move in a few weeks.
BOMA has 400 businesses in a very large region and while I cannot visit each business, I try to visit with as many as I can. Each visit is also an opportunity for David to capture photographs of our work and the extraordinary people who are participants in our Rural Entrepreneur Access Project or REAP. On one of my visits with an established business group, I hear a comment that I have heard repeatedly over the past year: “You are the first one to come and see how we are doing in our own place. You see us, Mama Rungu.”
I did not appreciate the full extent of this comment until I visited with the treasurer of Mbaringo Business Group in Goob Baringo village. She told me, “Before, organizations used to come and help us but no one ever stays. They eventually leave and the program dies. With BOMA, you send people who are known to us who help us with small problems. If we have a disagreement in the group, or need help with our record-keeping, the BOMA Village Mentors are here to help us. Because of them, and people like you coming to see us, we are going up.”
Mbaringo’s success in caring for their families is an example of what can be done with small amounts of money. Their business success would not be possible, however, without the dedication of our Mentors, volunteers in the community who are at the heart of our work. Currently, John Galgithele and Halima Arbele mentor 86 business groups of five and three people in the Korr region (population 14,000). There are dozens of small groups in the surrounding nomadic villages who are also interested in running their own business. We hope to launch another 40 businesses in the Korr region this year.
As a small organization our greatest challenge will be maintaining the quality of mentoring as we continue to expand. Kura and I already have some ideas, and this will be discussed at night, when the sun stops frying our brains.