Our time in Loiyangalani includes a few trips to swim in Lake Turkana, about a mile west of town. Brushing aside thoughts of crocodiles, we douse our sun-scorched bodies in the cool water. On our final night, Turkana dancers meet us on the shoreline as the sun sets. Everyone joins them for some hearty foot pounding, jumping and dancing. David takes pictures of the beautiful, lean dancers, of all ages. The photos are a visual testimony to how people can live healthy lives in hot, arid climates.
The next day, we return to Korr and the comfort of Amina’s huts. Kit and Chip Chamberlain make the drive to Lengima with Kura, visiting the “school” we had gone to see a week ago, where children gather underneath an acacia tree every morning in the searing heat. The Chamberlains return appalled and inspired to help—convinced, as we are, that teacher John Galgithele and his volunteer assistants are doing a remarkable job of teaching almost 200 children despite the lack of classrooms, textbooks and supplies.
After my numerous blog posts on the difficulties of surviving in the harsh northern Kenya climate, one might wonder why anyone should invest resources in a land so inhospitable. Yet from Israel to Chile to Arizona, people all over the world live healthy, productive lives in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs).
Northern Kenya has plentiful resources, and it would be short-sighted to conclude that this land is worthless because its residents can no longer sustain a livestock-based pastoral life. The people of northern Kenya are hardy, resilient and culturally rich. They demonstrate an innate entrepreneurial spirit, fostered by living in a harsh climate that also encourages a cooperative spirit among families, neighbors and communities. Our goal is to diversify their sources of income, so that people can afford education and medical care. In the long term, that means moving beyond subsistence living to identifying ways that people can improve the circumstances of their own lives and the conditions in their communities.
Unlike many nonprofit organizations in Africa, we set high standards for our definition of poverty eradication. BOMA’s standards exceed the generally accepted development notion that by providing a well, or a school, people’s lives will somehow be free of the degradations of poverty. In established societies, the middle and upper classes — and in some countries, the working class — are encouraged to pursue meaningful careers as well as financial and personal advancement. Significantly lower goals are set for the poor – or no goals at all. We need to set our sights on transformative change for those who live in extreme poverty, not only for humanitarian reasons, but so nations can harness the full economic power of their citizens.
But this will not happen until people have the ability to climb out of poverty, on their own terms, and utilize the tools that they need in order to become active participants in the economy and the democratic process. At BOMA, we have to look beyond our current programs to identify new resources and opportunities that will enhance lives with dignity. Our long list includes everything from research in economic botany and natural-resource development to the study of distribution systems that would facilitate trade and commerce.
Those are my thoughts as I lay in my hut, sweating from the heat and some kind of food poisoning that has brought on the usual digestive maladies and a raging fever. Over the next 24 hours, I sleep and think and write. Kura comes to check on me, and I tell him that I spoke via satellite phone with Doug, who told me we now have below zero temperatures and four feet of snow in Vermont.
“Mama Rungu, if I went there I would surely die,” Kura says.
“No Kura, you would not die,” I say. “And neither will I in this heat. We all just need to learn to adapt.”