BOMA Founders Kathleen Colson
and Ahmed Kura Omar
BOMA Founders Kathleen Colson and Ahmed “Kura” Omar met in 2005 in northern Kenya. Joseph Lekuton, the local Member of Parliament and a former classmate of Kathleen’s at Saint Lawrence University, asked Kathleen to see first-hand what was happening to the pastoral communities there who were being devastated by drought. Families were being left with no food, no cash and no practical or dignified means of earning an income. He asked Kura, who was working for him as an aide, to accompany Kathleen. What they saw was heartbreaking. “I had never seen such poverty and devastation,” says Kathleen. “I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.’”
That same year, Kathleen founded The BOMA Project and registered it as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Kura was her first employee. Over the next two years, Kathleen returned to Northern Kenya several times. Traveling in a beat-up Land Rover, she and Kura drove from village to village across the arid scrubland, accompanied by a mechanic and a security guard. At each stop, they would sit under a thorn tree and listen as the women talked. They spoke of being left alone in the villages with their children—with no food or income, often for weeks at a time—while the men traveled with the herds, searching for water and grazing terrain. They spoke of waiting in line for meager bags of food aid, begging for credit from shopkeepers, and trying to earn a few pennies by gathering firewood and collecting water. They told of the devastating cycle of drought, chronic hunger and extreme poverty that was robbing them of hope and robbing their children of opportunity. But mostly, they shared their dreams: to be empowered, to create their own solutions, to lead their families out of extreme poverty.
Kathleen and Kura believed there had to be an alternative to the cycle of dependence created by drought and disaster and humanitarian relief. They worked to develop an approach that would be driven by data, rigorous measures of success, and defined criteria for graduating participants from extreme poverty. Since 2009, the BOMA Project has helped transform the lives of 22,915 women, responsible for 114,575 children.