NASHETU NASHETU E MAA
Building in Partnership with the Maasai
Since the early 1980s Practical Action East Africa has been involved in participatory technology development as a means of tackling the challenge of securing livelihoods and increasing access to decent and affordable shelter. This document tells the story of work in the district of Kajiado, Kenya which has a largely Maasai population of approximately 120,000 in an area of 22,000km2 The Maasai are traditionally a nomadic people but currently face pressures from agriculture and the sub-division of land which have resulted in permanent settlement and changes in lifestyle. In 1991 Practical Action East Africa (then known as ITDG Kenya) received a request to give technical assistance to project efforts developed by the Arid and Semi-arid Lands Programme (ASAL), working in partnership with local women’s groups in Kajiado. Eleven groups registered with ASAL had identified housing as a priority issue. Practical Action East Africa’s role was to give support in developing appropriate shelter strategies and new technologies in response to the changing environment and housing needs. Traditionally the division of labour between Maasai women and men meant that women were, and often still are, solely responsible for the construction of family houses. A Maasai house, known as an enkaji, was a temporary shelter that was made low to the ground so as to be inconspicuous on the landscape; given the nomadic lifestyle of the builders, structures did not need to last long.
Marisiet Polong drawing water from a rainwater storage container. Photo: Practical
Action / Simon Ekless.
Projecting Projecting into the future
After early involvement as technical advisers, Practical Action’s work in Kajiado district evolved and grew into a distinct project which became known as the Maasai Housing Project (MHP). Since 1991, various funders have given financial support which enabled staff: • to stimulate housing improvements that meet the changing needs of Maasai communities; • to facilitate the optimum use of local materials and skills in construction; • to maintain or strengthen the status of women in house building and management and • to encourage local organisations to develop the capacity to support shelter focused initiatives within the Maasai community.
Practical Action, The Schumacher Centre, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV23 9QZ, UK T +44 (0)1926 634400 | F +44 (0)1926 634401 | E email@example.com | W www.practicalaction.org ___________________________________________________________________________________________ Practical Action is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee. Company Reg. No. 871954, England | Reg. Charity No.247257 | VAT No. 880 9924 76 | Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB
Drawing Drawing out dreams – a participatory design workshop
A participatory design workshop was held in August 1991, to enable women to present their ideas on appropriate housing design and construction. This drew on the experience of Kenyan staff as well as their colleagues from Practical Action offices in Peru and the UK, and was organised to work with members of 9 women’s groups from the project sites. The women’s preference for simple improvements to existing housing technologies and designs became apparent from the plans they produced. Maasai women, many of whom are illiterate, are adept at drawing plans; their traditional role as house builders means they are practised at defining and locating new houses by laying out plans on the ground using sand. This ability means they are able to use pen and paper to illustrate their own ideas; thereby expressing their aspirations for housing. During the workshop Practical Action and ASAL staff left the women to work on their own for an hour before discussing the outcome of their efforts: their own, ideal house plans. The resultant designs highlighted the women’s aspirations and concerns. Clear linkages with household activities i.e. cooking, socialising, food and fuel storage, working and washing, were evident as were other concerns of theirs: • ventilation – enkajis (the traditional house structures) rarely have windows and only one door opening; smoke from the cooking stove (traditionally an open fire) results in respiratory complaints; • natural lighting – the lack of structural openings reduces the available light inside the enkaji; • maintenance – the traditional cow dung, mud and ash plaster needs constant attention, especially during the rainy season, this is a very time consuming activity for women; • space – desirable features of a permanent house include increased ceiling height, enabling people to stand up inside, and separate rooms e.g. for children, for sleeping, for cooking.
Traditional house plan
House plans drawn by workshop participants showing new ideals.
Traditional Maasai house – an enkaji stands low to the ground and is inconspicuous on the landscape. Photo: Practical Action / Lucky Lowe. Developing technologies in partnership with the communities of Kajiado has been a complex, dynamic process involving home owners and builders, artisans and various local organisations which have an interest in improving the standard of living of the Maasai people. Practical Action’s work has focused on housing technologies: new options evolved through collaborative research and development in the regional training centre, at demonstration sites and whilst building people’s new homes. Research, liaison and technology development with members of the Maasai communities were critical in ensuring a clear understanding of the needs, the available resources and potential for adapting technologies.
Learning Learning together: participatory research and development
The research and development of appropriate construction technologies and the initial trial construction activities (adapting known technologies to local needs and resources) were undertaken in collaboration with the Maasai Rural Training Centre. This organisation is concerned with the training of artisans, primarily men, in construction craft skills. The following housing options were developed through participatory processes and are discussed in more detail later. House construction technologies: • rammed earth construction; • ferro-cement skin roof; • ferro-cement panel walls; • stabilised soil block (SSB) walling. Housing design and additional features: • higher ceilings; • larger windows; • improved sanitation • rainwater catchment and storage; • increased workspace; • smoke extraction. Maso Munyere, a young Maasai woman, builds her first house. Maso learnt the necessary skills from watching her mother. Photo:
Practical Action / Lucky Lowe.
At the Maasai Rural Training Centre demonstration site, Practical Action staff and local artisans, built four new types of housing enabling skills to be developed and providing physical evidence for others to see. Photo: Practical Action / Dave
Maasai women do not usually benefit from secondary education and would not normally choose to study construction subjects. Practical Action’s project explicitly aimed to train young women in craft subjects. Practical Action staff and local women faced practical and cultural obstacles such as a lack of facilities for women at the training centre, the cultural unacceptability of women travelling alone or leaving their domestic responsibilities. Training ‘on the job’ is therefore critical in supplementing the formal training efforts especially as a means to including women, enhancing their skills and achieving further outreach into the local community of self-help, female builders.
Learning Learni Learning in practice, building homes to demonstrate options
A programme of construction was devised with project partners and beneficiaries to refine technologies and to promote improved housing options. Establishing linkages with individuals and community based organisations was a primary concern to ensure Practical Action’s small team of staff could have the biggest impact possible. Participants from women’s groups, and local artisans chosen by them, were trained by Practical Action staff in the skills and techniques required to plan and manage the construction process. This process begins with choices being made about the design and technologies to be used; the planning of activities; estimating quantities; purchasing and transporting materials; employing artisans and engaging family, neighbours, and friends to build the structure and apply the finishes. Practical Action aimed to ensure that benefits accrued to trainees from both the process and the content of training. Programmes were designed to involve as many stakeholders as possible whilst keeping in mind that women were the primary target beneficiaries of the project. Maasai women being trained Women’s groups would themselves identify who was to take whilst preparing and moulding part in the training sessions and who was to benefit from the rammed earth walling. Photos: house building itself. The demonstration house built during Practical Action / Neil Cooper. training would belong to someone who was chosen based on the criteria derived by members of the community: • having no source of income; • having no member of family working and supporting the family; • owning less than 10 cows and 5 goats; • being a widow/widower with no income and no animals; • being orphaned children, below 18 years, with no inherited wealth; • being an old, childless spinster with no animals; • suffering from mental illness; • being blind with no source of income; • having a family of over 7 children and 3 wives with In training sessions representatives from several local groups would attend and participate in exchange visits to other local sites to see alternative designs and technologies, to hardware merchants to gain knowledge of market prices and materials availability. Staff would discuss the benefits and techniques of new construction methods and would undertake, with participants, the complete process of house building from laying out the foundations through to applying the final finishes.
Whilst Practical Action provided some of the materials for the demonstration houses the women provided local materials such as timber or river sand, as well as the labour required for construction. Most of the women’s groups were actively involved in fund raising through traditional gatherings known as harambees, where invited guests would be amply entertained in return for donations. Group activities and savings would also be used to support new housing initiatives. Training programmes often required a high degree of flexibility from Practical Action staff, who would camp out on site to ensure that they did not waste time and resources travelling to and from remote places which were often difficult to access.
Sharing experience Sharing experience with the wider world
Practical Action’s small-scale project activities aim to learn lessons and share these with others in order to increase the impact of local initiatives. A programme of dissemination continued with the aim of spreading information about shelter options to other people in Kajiado district and beyond. Practical Action maintained a presence in Kajiado with the capacity to respond to technical enquiries and to give advice to individuals and organisations. But the emphasis shifted towards enabling others to do the work and sharing information with people locally, nationally and internationally.
Maasai women traditionally come together to offer each other social and practical support. Photo: Practical Action /
The demonstration house built at the Ngong agricultural show-ground has become a home. Photo: Practical
Action / Lucky Lowe.
Sharon Looremetta and Elijah Agevi, representing the people of Kajiado at the UN conference on Human Settlements, Istanbul June 1996. Photo: Practical Action /
By Lucky Lowe, Published by Practical Action on 01/01/99
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