Recently I have realised that I have a powerful urge to visit my toilet. I am so attracted to it not only because of the advantages I get from the weight reduction process, but because I am also getting a lot of inspiration from the occasional visit. So when I was in Mandera recently, the urge appeared in its subtle demeanour; even if it took me days to finally get to one comfortable secluded patio next to a crowded street.
I was not going to get my inspiration nonetheless. Actually I really needed to get to it because I was in trouble. I had done what everybody in their right minds was never allowed to do – drink raw camel milk. But it was not supposed to go this way, right? I mean everybody takes a glass and they live to speak words of wisdom not on their death beds like I was seeing my body leading me to but amongst other men. What did I do wrong? Whose goat did I steal to be bewitched?
The events following this particular visit to the loo needed to be outlined singularly and expounded in my head to see what went wrong. And with my mouth dry in dehydration (hey, I was losing a lot of water from the processes), I started to count the trusses on the roof of my seclusion.
“I never washed my hands,” I began. “In the hurry to complete all the activities I had during the morning and evenings I just dug my miniature paws into the food plate.” Why? Am I not the one telling communities to clean up before and after daily activities?
In addition, I had found out earlier in the day, the guy who kindly gave me my calabash – that one that is causing my belly and cells to be flaccid – had found washing the udder and teats of the camel a waste of time. “We do not want to spend a lot of time milking because the animal would get jittery and start to make noise awaking everyone in the morning.” Moreover, all milking is done out in the open. So think flies; think brucellosis. Think my death-wish – and not that the milking has anything to do with my punishing outstretching in C-fashion.
The last time the calabash with a chip just next to my point of contact with my lips was ever washed was sometimes between when it left its branches and its trimming, before it became my cup to my bending; sometimes in the 4thcentury. And no sieving was done, if at all, an old work hijab was used to dry-scrub and off dust.
So the visions of old saliva filled cloths so reused until it is not clear whether the colour was as a result of dirt or the original dye that has seen better days, came to my head. When Dhahabu, my translator, untied the teats during the milking, she placed these pieces on the camel’s back!
Normally, the exposed teats are dry and to wet them she applied saliva on to her fingers, spreading evenly on the teat massaging it slowly until milk poured. She sprinkled a little on to her hand to check its colour. She told us that this helped her find out if there was any sign of a disease. There being no negative signs, she sucked it in to her mouth. This also, she said, helped her ensure that the milk was in good taste. Everything in order, I got my calabash fill. I guess that tells the story of my whole destiny.
However, this was before I went to Mandera to have a feel of what goes on in the lives of the common residents. When I was taken through the whole process by the project team, I realised that the project dubbed “Camel Milk Project” also known as ‘Pastoralist Women challenging drought and chronic food insecurity through dairy production and marketing,’ funded by Practical Action’s Track Record budget had been working with communities to change their attitudes towards good hygiene practice. It trained the milk producers on proper milk production process which in turn has increased the income of the milk producers in Mandera. The team has raised awareness on hygienic practices and implemented innovative activities and interventions with milk producing communities. This is envisaged meeting the demand for milk in the town and make a way to expand to reach many other regions within Mandera County.No Comments » | Add your comment
My trip up north, as I have always shared, comes with many lessons for me. This time I had a personal objective. My mission was not just to pick peculiar aspects of the Cushitic culture but to learn a word or two. The ‘classes’ were random. All my acquaintances were my teachers. They all wanted to teach me a word or two. The daring ones ensured I sang along to their satisfaction. I enjoyed their enthusiasm.
At the Mora geel
Among many new lexicons I managed to comfortably take home with me was the word mora geel. Mora geel is a place where camels are sheltered. It is the same place where camels are milked. It was easy to memorize since I was leading a team of videographers to document Practical Action’s innovative camel milk project in Mandera County. And in our numerous trips to capture the moods, the changes, interview locals and filming the environment in general, I noticed that a lady milking a camel’s stubby udders at sunrise is not a novelty, but a daily chore to get milk valued by their tribe for generations.
So how do I say I want camel milk, I asked? Cano geel ayan raba said my teacher.
To them milking of camels is not only an act of work, but an integral part of the local culture and heritage. The milking itself has its own rules. Two teats are left for the calf, while the other two are milked-out for the family. The milk is either consumed fresh or sour.
This arid region in northern Kenya, like much of the greater horn of Africa, has in recent years been hit with less predictable and more intense droughts. Many pastoralists have lost their mainstay – livestock. The changing weather condition has not only led to loss in thousands of livestock but it has also hindered cow’s milk production. However, the value of the camels has been boosted. Milk and meat from the animal now enjoys the highest prices in the market, both nationally and internationally.
Although camels are more expensive to buy than cows, they are cheaper to keep and their milk fetches more on the market. Camel milk is said to be three times as rich in Vitamin C and is known to be rich in iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins,” according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s website.
According to Viola Sugut, Practical Action’s project officer, “Camels produce milk all year round and produce when other livestock stop or die from dehydration. This ensures a steady income for the family. Businesses have also been established selling camel milk and other milk products like yoghurt and sweets. This has generated a lot of interest among local women and other women are looking at the Bulla women’s group and seeing that they can also just come out and participate in business,” she explained.
The women milk traders have found their niche says Sugut. The women’s business model has proved to be successful. The hope is that camel milk will continue to empower women, feed their families and change lives in Mandera.No Comments » | Add your comment
Every time I visit northern Kenya I learn a thing or two. Sometimes the learning is overwhelming. Most times I marvel at how rich their resilient lifestyle and culture is. I have learnt from the paradox of the complex lifestyle clothed in simplicity. Increasingly, I have developed a passion for observing nomadic pastoralists and their way of life. I am sure pastoralist way of life is full of new learning for everyone.
From the scenic environments, the rich fauna and flora, to the rich culture and the people, the images are hard to forget. The beauty of the locals cannot be overemphasised. The hospitable, usually happy people, are hard to part with. Despite the unforgiving environmental harshness, you always want to stay longer.
I was in Mandera in early this month. Exactly a year since I last visited the area. Unlike in my last trip to the vast region when the area was strewn with carcasses of domestic animals due to the now cyclical and prolonged droughts, the weather was friendly. It was cold, very cold as per the locals’ definitions of cold. It was their ‘winter season’ as one Alikhery Mohammed put it. I put winter in inverted commas since the temperatures were about 20-24 degrees Celsius.
The last time I was in Mandera, I was leading a team of 10 international journalists covering the devastating drought. The visit was sponsored by The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA). We not only gave prominence to aspects that were not being highlighted by other agencies (the plight of animals and the need to secure a nucleus herd for each household in order to recoup after the drought) and media houses but also officially launched an emergency program that aimed at ensuring the locals retain a nucleus herd. As with last year the team visited Borehole 11 village in Elwak and selected sites around Mandera County. But this time, I was leading a team of consultants to film, produce and package short films on our projects in the area. The details of our mission are a subject of discussion for another time.
One specific feature caught my attention this time. The singing wells of Lebihia village, Mandera County. It started with the organisation by the herders, their animals’ urge to quench their thirst and the musical approach the locals fulfilled their animals’ needs. From the vast fields, the animals run to the wells from all directions. In response to their shepherds’ commands, they cheer each other as they run towards the water troughs by the rehabilitated shallow wells.
They (animals) converse in low tones as they approach the watering troughs. And with little commotion, they line up and take their positions on both sides of the troughs. Their conversations decrease as they settle to drink their fill. Others wait for their turn to drink too. All the while, the livestock owners and handlers are busy fetching clean water for their animals.
They sing melodious songs (in local dialects) as they pick; roll-down the ropes and bucket to the shallow wells and as they pull the bucketful of water and pour onto the ever decreasing volume of water in the troughs. The rope and bucket technology is one of the appropriate technologies Practical Action has supported in the area. It is affordable and easy to maintain.
The unified voices of the singers are inviting. And as if in agreement, the animals have learnt to – in turns – appreciate the euphonious melodies from their owners and handlers by sprinkling a few millilitres of their share of water and by twisting their tails and raising their heads in an orchestrated manner.
Some spillage is reserved for their herders/handlers who oversee them as they drink from the troughs. Am sure some of the older animals spill some water from their mouths as a sign of their gratitude to their ancestors. The Moooo, Meeeee and HeeeeHoooo sounds surrounding the troughs is enough proof that the animals being watered are not new to the lyrics of the songs. They have learnt to honourably acknowledge the heaps of praise from their owners as they quench their thirst.
“The songs we sing serve two main purposes. We sing to praise our animals: for their beauty, their ability to reproduce regularly and to commend them for their obedience. Additionally we sing to encourage ourselves as we fetch water for our animals,” explained Abdi Hassan, a herder.
And when all the animals have had their share, the herders take turns to cool their systems with the remaining waters in the troughs. It was interesting to witness other owners and herders pour numerous buckets of water on the soloist as he comfortably squatted on one of the troughs as he led the rest on with the song’s lyrics to the climax. ‘It must be a very fulfilling practice,’ I thought. So, where did they learn this, I asked?
“This aspect of our lives is historical. It’s been practised for many years. It is handed over to the next generation with each generational change,” explained Ali Noor, a local.
And when I asked about the future of this unique practice, Noor was quick to say, ‘this is something that is at the core of our lifestyle. It will not die.’
As I put myself to rest that night, I could vividly remember the images at the wells. I tried to find an equivalent in my culture in vain. I scribbled it on my note book and promised myself to ask my kinsmen when I go back home.6 Comments » | Add your comment
It has been 12 months since Northern Kenya, and Mandera County in particular, saw one of the worst droughts in 60 years.
Thanks to your support, Practical Action was able to help thousands of poor people cope with the drought. But we need your help more than ever to ensure that the region doesn’t slip back into crisis when the next drought occurs.
Mandera County has an area of over 25,000 square kilometres of dry land and a population of 1,025,000 people. Most of these people are pastoralists who depend on their livestock to survive.
As we were already working in this area we expanded our services to help those most at risk.
Impact of the 2011 drought
Due to the failure of the rains from October to December 2010, water sources dried up and pastures diminished. Many livestock died as a result and their owners were unable to sustain their livelihoods and feed their families.
Inadequate and inappropriate economic, social and political preparedness strategies and ineffective early warning systems left pastoralists more vulnerable to the effects of drought. Interventions only begin when the drought impacts have reached emergency levels and the biggest casualty is usually the livestock and their poor owners.
What Practical Action did and how we did it
With the onset of the drought, Practical Action, with support from The Brooke and The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) launched an emergency programme of work to minimize the losses of pastoralist livestock and donkeys.
We set up a feeding and vaccination programme for sheep and goats.
Donkey health service drives were provided to reduce worm infestations and treat opportunistic diseases that would have weakened donkeys or led them to early deaths.
We trained donkey owners and handlers to take care of their working animals to ensure no donkey died from thirst and overworking and distributed hay and feed to over 5,000 donkeys.
9,000 litres of diesel was provided to seven boreholes to support extension work on animal welfare at watering points. Crucially, water was also provided for villages located far away from water points. Four water troughs were rehabilitated, cracks repaired and piping done to connect it to a permanent water source.
Together with SPANA, we launched a media campaign to highlight the plight of livestock and their poor owners at the time when governments, aid agencies and international communities were concentrating their efforts on refugees. You can see the coverage here. Following this coverage, the UK government pledged an additional £4 million to support livestock in the region.
Without our urgent intervention and the intervention by others, the drought ravaging the region at that time could have got a lot worse.
What is the situation now?
Mandera County received some good short rains between October and December 2011. However, the long rains expected between March and May this year were below the normal level. A total of 54.4 mm of rainfall was recorded at Mandera meteorological station, compared to the normal rains of 100 to 150 mm. The pasture condition is normal but dry.
The condition of livestock is fair to good. However, this is expected to deteriorate as pastures dry up and water sources diminish over the summer, which will increase stress on the animals before the onset of the short rains in October to November 2012.
There is also low calving among cattle and camel due to the low conception rate during the last year’s drought. As a result, there is not much milk from camels and cattle.
What do we need to do as we look ahead?
Droughts are cyclical – they will return to the region. During every drought nearly 80% of Mandera’s population slide into an emergency situation – losing livestock which lead to hunger, malnutrition and even death. That is why we need your help to support our work, so we can:
- Provide fuel subsidy for motorized water pumps running boreholes so these pumps can run 24/7 while poor pastoralists are unable to contribute to its running costs as a result of their animals losing value or dying. Support should also come in form of fast moving spare parts and expertise for water pump repairs.
- Introduce water/pasture saving, treatment and conservation technologies
- Maintain livestock food aid and animal health services to cushion the poor livestock owners from shocks that would diminish their livestock during drought.
- Initiate long term recovery activities such as de-silting and repairing strategic water sources, vaccinating and de-worming livestock to make them better able to stand adverse conditions, and supporting fodder producers with fuel subsidy and irrigation technologies.
- Advise pastoral communities to use reserve grazing land if available or to sell their livestock well before the water and pasture situation becomes critical.
- Rehabilitate degraded rangeland to eventually improve pasture availability.
- Facilitate animal health services and emergency livestock feed services along the livestock routes running between common border areas with Ethiopia and Somalia. This will help reduce economically important trans-boundary livestock diseases during the period of huge livestock influx between porous borders.
- Lobby for the suspension of taxes and service fees levied on livestock sellers during the emergency period to help in emergency off-take.
Mandera residents are among the hardest hit by the current drought. However, their plight has not been highlighted as much compared to other areas like Turkana. As a result, many pastoralist families continue to suffer.
Able bodied men and women, who in the recent months were proud owners of healthy animals, have lost a majority if not all their animals due to the drought. The Ministry of Livestock estimates the losses to between 45-60%. The loss of their animals – the main source of their livelihoods and income – has reduced many to internally displaced persons living in makeshift camps where relief supplies are normally distributed by the government or humanitarian agencies.
During our recent trip to the area I could not help but notice the loss of pride and the level of devastation in the eyes of these pastoralists. Their experiences are moving. It is overwhelming. I can only imagine the explanations the men and the women give to their children when they are no longer able to provide food to them.
“What needs to be done to secure the pastoralists’ sources of livelihood?,” asked Tom Kimani, a Kenyan journalist.
As an organization we believe that although time is extremely short and the needs are great, efforts by all stakeholders to save the lives of many pastoralist and their generations should not stop at providing emergency aid. Relief is important but not enough. We must move beyond it to help these impoverished regions escape from extreme poverty and become more resilient to the changes in weather associated with climate change. The use of appropriate technology to address the challenge cannot be overemphasized.
Despite the above state of affairs, all is not lost. Our mission came across healthy herds of animals at watering points in Garba Xuoley, Borehole eleven and in Mandera township thanks to one of the current emergency interventions by Practical Action in the area. The initiative, built on observations that pastoralists share some of the limited relief food supplies with their animals to save their capital asset, has so far given a number of the pastoralists a reason to smile. The organization with support from the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) and The BROOKE is not only providing the animals with supplementary feeds and concentrates but also providing them with essential animal health services to secure a nucleus of animals capable of surviving the overwhelming effects of the drought.
“The animals being fed today are descendants of those animals that were secured during the 2005/06 drought period. We are not only grateful but optimistic that the animal feed and the health services will help see a number of our animals to the next rainy season,” said Fatima Mohamed whose herd has been reduced from 120 to 40.
And although the noble initiatives are making a difference in the lives of the animals of poor pastoralists in the area it does not reach all the areas. The rations are not enough. Generosity and speed are of the essence. With your support more can be done to cushion pastoralists’ sources of livelihood.
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Great news – one of our projects to help poor people cope with the drought in East Africa is in the national newspapers!
UK national newspaper journalists came out to Mandera, northern Kenya, to see an emergency drought response programme that we’re running.
See my previous blog here:
It’s a livestock feeding and vaccination programme we’re managing with funding from the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA).
They gave expansive coverage of the plight of the poor livestock owners and the impact of drought on livestock in the region.
Their articles were published today. Here is the coverage:
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Pastoralist communities in Kenya’s arid lands depend on their livestock and their donkeys for income. Basic veterinary care is one of the best ways to protect their animals and pastoralist livelihoods in these areas.
This is especially vital during the drought because weakened animals are at major risk from contagious diseases. But in remote areas such as Mandera in north eastern Kenya, pastoralists are unlikely to have access to veterinary services.
That’s why Practical Action vet Dr Golicha and animal health assistant Abdi Hamid, with funding from animal welfare charity The Brooke, have been training and mentoring 110 community-based animal health workers (CBAHWs) in the area in an effort to bridge this gap.
What are CBAHWs?
CBAHWs are predominantly herders themselves from pastoral areas who live and move with their animals in search of water and pasture.
I spoke to some of them at a watering point near Mandera town where pastoralists bring their livestock to drink and load their donkeys up with water to transport back home.
CBAHW Adan Ibrahim told me that they provide animal healthcare services to members of their communities. They diagnose and treat common diseases and play a major role in disease reporting, surveillance and community mobilisation. They contact Dr Golicha and Abdi Hamid if there’s anything that comes up which they are unable to treat.
I watched the team treat donkeys for worms and give them vitamin supplements aimed at reducing opportunistic diseases and infections associated with drought.
“My donkey is vital because it carries water from this shallow well 16 kilometres back home.”
Pastoralist Adan Abdirahiman said many of their livestock have died and donkeys are their only hope of earning money – through collecting and selling firewood and water:
“My donkey is vital because it carries water from this shallow well 16 kilometres back home. We are grateful for the help that Practical Action and The Brooke have given us – drugs for our donkeys and animal welfare advice to ensure we’re not overloading them – this is especially important during this drought when they have to carry water over longer distances and are more likely to suffer from health problems.”
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The dulcet tones of the pre-dawn (4am) Islamic ‘Call to Prayer’ blaring from speakers at Mandera mosques set the scene for the day.
I was soon to learn that these loudspeakers play a vital role in one of Practical Action’s projects.
There are 191,664 donkeys in Mandera. They plough, carry water and firewood and transport produce to market. Because of their low status, donkeys are often overloaded, neglected or mistreated.
Donkey owners here are often squeezed out of pastoralism as a result of drought. They want to get the most out of their donkeys to earn enough money to live on. However, the poor physical condition of their donkeys makes them unable to realise their economic potential.
Practical Action is working with animal welfare charity The Brook to improve the lives of donkeys by changing management practices and care for these animals.
What we’re doing
Many people in Mandera are illiterate, so we’ve teamed up with radio stations to promote donkey welfare and produced these billboards that have been erected all over the town
So where do the mosque loudspeakers come in?
We’re also working with the Mandera branch of the Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa, which promotes good deeds for the “betterment of the community”. They’re helping Practical Action by preaching to an estimated 80,000 people about donkey welfare at markets, water points and at the 40 mosques in the town. Yesterday they also used the mosque loudspeakers to promote donkey welfare. If I’d understood Arabic, I would have been able to hear what they said as I laid in my bed.
And we’ve worked with them and the town council to get a by-law passed that stops people mistreating their animals. If people breach the by-law they can be fined, jailed or given a community punishment order.
It’s clear that this project has been a success – donkey owners understand the linkages between the welfare of their animal and the success of their business and now they’ve been educated about the issue, they’re educating others.
When I travelled through the town, I didn’t see donkeys being whipped with huge sticks and I didn’t see their carts being overloaded. I didn’t see donkeys in a poor condition. What I did see were donkeys being fed and watered and being looked after. I saw happy donkeys and happy owners…and I fell asleep, happy…happy that I’d witnessed another Practical Action project that’s making a difference to the lives of poor people.No Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve never really been interested in finance. Just the very mention of “savings and investment”, “stocks” or “retirement planning” makes my eyes glaze over.
So I surprised myself with the excitement I felt about a Practical Action finance initiative funded by animal welfare charity The Brook.
In fact, it’s the project I am most passionate about in drought-hit Mandera Why? Because it’s a fantastic example of how we’re building the capacity of people to generate their own income from livelihoods; how we’re helping them become self-sufficient so they can avoid having to depend on hand outs to survive.
What it’s about:
Working with the Equity Bank, local authorities and other organisations, we’ve just launched the Equine Savings and Investment Group, a pilot group lending initiative for donkey owners. These people are mainly pastoralist ‘drop outs’ – they’ve lost their livestock and their way of earning a living.
How it works:
Practical Action recommends a group of up to 15 donkey owners to the bank, pays the application fee, interest and insurance. Individuals pay a minimum of one Kenya shilling into a group account. The collateral of the group acts as a security net for the bank so if anyone defaults on loan payments, it can take the money from the group.
The members can then apply for loans to improve their livelihoods. These applications have to be approved – ensuring the money will be used in the best possible way, rather than just to buy non essentials. One example is buying more donkeys and carts which can be hired out to people who can’t afford them.
But that’s not just it. We’re also doing this:
At the same time, Practical Action works with the community to identify and then train people on alternative income generating activities like donkey powered transport for firewood, water and crop produce, or becoming donkey cart artisans and harness makers.
What the donkey owners say:
So far 56 groups have been set up. It’s early days but donkey owners are excited about the difference this initiative could make to their lives.
One of them said: “We’re grateful for the assistance we’ve received in empowering us to strengthen our livelihoods. This provision is a good financial solution to our problems. We can raise our income and our quality of life. We feel that now we have a very bright future.”
If this is successful, it could be replicated all over Kenya. Watch this space!
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We’ve all read about how Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. But have you ever read about how people in Mandera, north eastern Kenya, can walk a round trip of up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) to fetch water?
For someone who only has to walk a few paces to get clean running water, this is incomprehensible; especially when you consider that these people have to walk this distance in temperatures of up to 40˚C. I almost consider trying it just to see if I can make it and appreciate the suffering that these people have to endure.
But this journey is one fraught with danger. Water is in such short supply that violence regularly breaks out at the few remaining wells – with many innocent women and children wounded or killed.
Practical Action is reducing the trek that people have to make to fetch water by rehabilitating shallow wells dug into seasonal river beds.
I spoke to a woman at one of the rehabilitated shallow wells who said she now only has to walk two kilometres to fetch water and feels much safer. While I was there, I was told by several pastoralists that the trough next to the shallow well gives their livestock easy access to water and as a result, is helping to keep them alive.
Patoralist Adan Ibrahim said: “The rehabilitation of these wells and the building of new wells is crucial to the livestock because they will always have water. This will ensure that they survive the drought until the next rains come.”
It’s clear that amongst the complex solutions we’re introducing to this area, this simple technology is a life-saving answer.
This is why it’s so critical for us to dig more wells and rehabilitate more wells. 90,000 households across Mandera county depend on them.
Find out more about our shallow well work.No Comments » | Add your comment