Semeji, BOMA’s security man, provides a traditional blessing to begin the BOMA presentation of the Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP) to the DFW group. After each intonation, the group is asked to hold their palms up and as they say “aawoom,” close their palms, and then re-open them for the next blessing. Holding my rungu high, Semeji reels off over 50 blessings, in his native Samburu, asking God to bless us all, to bless the cows, to bless the women and to bless our work.
Kura follows with a formal introduction of BOMA’s Business Mentors. Teresa and Benjamin are both Turkanas from Loiyangalani. Teresa is the first headmistress of a government school in Laisamis district; Benjamin, who now has his secondary degree after dropping out for a lack of funds, is a builder who rents properties.
Hosea and Damaris are from the village of Gatab on the top of Mt. Kulal. Hosea is a teacher and community leader who heads up a number of committees in his village, including the Community Development Fund; Damaris is a teacher and shopkeeper as well as the first Samburu woman in the region to build her own house. Damaris will be married in April and her husband will move into her home.
Aleya from Loglogo is raising five children on her own, as well as being the head of the one of the most successful women’s groups in the region which provides night classes for adults and child herders as well as serving as a nursery school and a camp site for visitors. John, from Korr, is the nomadic children’s teacher who sleeps on a thin mattress in a classroom five nights a week and then makes the long trek home over the Kaisut Desert to be with his family over the weekend.
Alinoor and William represent the Ilaut region: William is a young community leader who recently had a close encounter with a band of hyenas as he traveled to one of BOMA’s remote village businesses; Alinoor is a committed Muslim as well as the head of the Lutheran Church Development Committee in Ilaut. Rosemary from Laisamis is assistant head of the Laisamis primary school as well as a single mother of five children. And finally there is Brown, the first educated person from the village of Kamboe, who has brought along her nursing baby, Jessica, and nine-year-old daughter, Kacey.
The presentation of BOMA’s Rural Entrepreneur Access Project to the DFW group did not have my input. The Mentors put together an impressive program that included songs and icebreakers led by the dynamic Teresa. John provided an overview of the program and an explanation of the role of the Business Mentor; Kura talked about the importance of transparency and accountability in the program. Teresa talked about the life of a pastoralist woman and Rosemary gave a deeply moving account of the impact that the REAP program has had on the lives of the very poor in Laisamis district. Teresa and Benjamin made a special thank you to the DFW group who contributed enough funds for 60 businesses to be started in the Loiyangalani region: those 60 businesses will impact the lives of 300 women and over 1,500 children!
The program ended with songs and a gift of necklaces made by one of BOMA’s business groups to each of the DFW members. It was an incredibly proud moment for me as I watched our empowered, confident BOMA leaders talk so movingly about caring for the poor in their communities. BOMA’s Business Mentors are volunteers and this was their first opportunity to interact with a significant number of donors.
It was hard to make the final goodbyes to the Mentors, as I knew that the journey home with Kura in Gumps would be dangerous. The roads, and especially the Kaisut crossing, will be even worse after the continuous downfall of rain. There has been a spike of attacks on vehicles traveling on the main road and I hope they will travel in a convoy for safety. We will see Kura again in Maasai Mara at the end of the DFW trip, where he will join us for our final night.
When I say goodbye to Semeji, Omar and Kura, I have a hard time holding back the tears for this dear group of men who have so ably cared for me and kept me safe. They will now do the same for the Business Mentors who are the heart and soul of The BOMA Fund.