KENYA: Crisis Sends Maasai Aid Project Back To Basics

To catch a ride to Nairobi Michael Ole Sayo, a 24-year-old Maasai living in Kenya's Rift Valley, negotiates fields of volcanic rock boulders, spiky thorn trees, and lions.

These days, however, the more immediate threat is one that here on the Rift Valley floor should seem remote. The world financial crisis is impeding funding for the projects he has initiated to help the Maasai community.

"It is a new problem," says the 6-foot three (1.9 m) tribesman who carries a cellphone and memory stick rather than the traditional spear: "One I'm not sure how we can fight."

One of a generation of mobile young Maasai as comfortable in the internet cafes of downtown Nairobi as in their parents' daub huts, Ole Sayo, who has secondary education and a fistful of diplomas, has given up job opportunities in the city to stay and work with the community.

"Most of the programmes are donor-funded. So if the donors don't get money we, who are the last kind of grassroots people, are not getting funding either," he said.

"We must be worried. We have heard that organisations like Oxfam and others have been affected."

The projects initiated by the Matonyok Nomads' Organisation or MANDO, the non-governmental organisation he set up, have funding requirements of a few thousand dollars each -- tiny in the multi-billion dollar aid industry.

They include building rainwater-harvesting tanks at the local school which has no water or electricity, helping Maasai beadworkers market their beads, increasing awareness about the dangers of female circumcision and improving inoculation and water supplies for cattle.

Lacking government support, Ole Sayo and other young, educated Maasai are having to step in to try to provide their community with basics taken for granted even in Kenya's capital.

With just $500 in personal savings and donations from the community, Ole Sanyo has stocked the MANDO office -- previously furnished with just a simple desk and computer -- with essential foodstuffs, turning it into a small community stall.

The small profits the stall makes go back into the community projects. He has also turned to still-available micro-loans for funding, appealing for $2,000 from the International Child Resource Institute, an agency that requires part of the loan repayment be ploughed back into the community.

That money will be used to set up a small garden farm to grow green vegetables for the stall.

"We can grow vegetables to make more money for the organisation and at the same time improve nutritional levels and provide an example that others can follow," he said.

SOURCE: Reuters

AUTHOR: Tom Kirkwood

URL: Click here

DATE: 24/03/2009

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