Turkana is the poorest county in Kenya, with over 80% of the population living below the poverty line. The people in Turkana are amongst the most marginalised and are largely excluded from mainstream health and development planning.
Here, providing sustainable, practical solutions to healthcare issues is key. Women in the region are the gatekeepers to their communities’ health, so leveraging their power unlocks opportunities.
By installing irrigation systems through water tanks, areas of scrubland can be turned into gardens and farms for crop growing. Not only does this address the issue of poor nutrition; the sale of vegetables gives women in the community an income – a new concept in a largely patriarchal society.
Samal is a member of a farming co-operative in Elelea, Turkana. She works with other women from the local community, growing vegetables in the grounds of the local health centre. She said: “Before Amref came to our village, our children were very malnourished. Now, we grow our own crops and we can feed our families properly. I didn’t always have a job, or a purpose. Now, we are all businesswomen.”
Often, community groups can make up to KSh 600 ($6) a day that can be invested back into the farm to grow the business. Because money of this scale is a new concept in Turkana, training from Amref Health Africa on banking and taking out loans to grow these businesses is part of the sustainability process.
John Kutna, Amref Project Manager who works in the local area: “In the past, there has been a huge focus on health, but no attention paid to the root causes of sickness and disease. The way Amref works is different. We address the underlying health issues to ensure there is no relapse. Because we have been a part of these communities for so long, we understand the challenges in a unique manner and address in a useful and sustainable way. We have to come up with innovative ideas because the environment and the people are so unique.”
Once successful pilot farms have been introduced, the group involved share their business model with nearby communities. This sharing of skills, knowledge and experience gives women a means to look after themselves and their young children, as well as providing them a strong sense of purpose and independence.