Birth of the Naiyobi Women’s Project
Founding a grassroots support group for Maasai women in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) of Tanzania was to change Kim Laizer‘s life. This is Part 2 of her story.
Guidance and support
The successful creation and facilitation of grassroots development programs requires significant guidance and support. I had the personal motivation and commitment to help make something possible for the women of Naiyobi in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area (see Part 1 of Kim’s story), but I realized there was much I needed to learn to do so effectively. I enrolled in the Global Field Program at Miami University in Ohio, hoping that the program’s focus on community-based conservation, participatory education, and inquiry would provide me with perspectives and resources that would help me decide exactly what to do, and how to go about doing it.
My first course was a field studies expedition in Baja, California, which set me in the right direction. Our in-country partners had followed their hearts to make the world a better place, and urged us to do the same. “Follow your dreams, and the rest will come.” Their mentorship coupled with my instructor’s encouragement propelled me to commit to an effort that would be both my graduate school and life’s work.
Laizer, my husband, who is Maasai and from Naiyobi, was thrilled and offered his support whenever needed. He introduced me to Theresia Saruni, a female Maasai friend in Tanzania, who helped me learn more about the challenges, needs, motivations, and hopes of women in Naiyobi. Although much of what I learned echoed what I had already understood and imagined, I discovered how important education is in their eyes, for both their children and themselves. I learned how eager the women are to have access to savings and loan co-ops or other forms of microfinance that can provide start-up funds for small businesses and help them provide for their families. Through my studies, I found commonalities between these Maasai women and others living in different regions of Tanzania and in developing countries around the world. I increased my awareness of challenges, successes, and recommendations for women’s centered education and development efforts.
With this enhanced understanding, I conducted another largely unsuccessful search for NGOs that might partner with the women and help them secure education, training, and development opportunities. Save the Rain, an organization that teaches women to build water tank systems that harvest rainwater from roofs, was willing, but up until now the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) management has not responded with a decision to requests to build such tanks in the Conservation Area. It has been over a year. I found that most foundations offering grants for women’s groups working toward education, training and development require proof that a women’s organization is officially recognized and functioning successfully for at least three years before being eligible to apply. I realized that if I wanted to help the women, we would have to create something ourselves. Thus, the Naiyobi Women’s Project was born.
Making things happen
I traveled with Theresia to Naiyobi in January 2016 to meet the women and share ideas of things they could do to help themselves reach their goals. We suggested guidelines for creating a community savings and loan program based on the US Peace Corps model. Though I have found Maasai women reluctant to publicly acknowledge that they have talents and knowledge worth sharing, they certainly do. We encouraged the women to organize themselves into peer learning groups so those who had completed primary school and those who had knowledge others were interested in learning about could do so.
With donated funds, we purchased books and learning supplies for the peer-teachers and students to use. We taught money management, sales pricing, and small business proposal seminars. The women participating in the training and development sessions united to form a women’s group called Nadupoi. They explained to me that Nadupoi means “It will live forever;” others say it means “resistant,” “persistent,”, or “not easily broken.” In reality, the women’s group is all of these things.
To help meet the women’s needs and motivations for small business opportunities, I raised money through a crowdsourcing effort and created a rotating fund that offers micro-loans to women’s co-ops in Naiyobi. With additional budget training and coaching from Theresia, women organized themselves into small co-ops and submitted proposals for micro-finance projects they wanted to pursue. We selected six co-ops to receive loans of about $500 each, repayable in six months with 10% interest.
Theresia provided monthly in-person coaching and support for these co-ops. Near the end of the rotating fund’s first cycle, Theresia shared with me the women’s challenges, successes, feelings, and suggestions for how we could better train and support the co-ops in the second cycle of the fund. I was delighted to hear how happy the women were with their businesses and how excited they were to be earning more than imagined for their families. In my opinion, the empowerment and self-esteem aspects of this project are just as important, if not more so, than its economic and capacity building aspects. Equally as exciting was the change in attitude of their husbands. Many had at first doubted their wives, and in some cases, been reluctant to co-sign for their wives’ loans. Seeing their successes, the husbands now recognize their wives’ abilities and appreciate their efforts more. Baby steps to equality!
When asked what would have helped them do a better job with their businesses and what they would recommend other women do or learn before starting co-ops in the future, the women pointed to money management, record keeping, and learning how to read and write Swahili. They expressed interest in learning basic math skills and women’s rights as well. Knowing that the women are eager to learn, we raised funds to compensate two peer teachers for delivering two classes a day, three days a week for all women who want to participate. We are especially hoping that the women in the co-ops chosen for the second round of the rotating fund, along with women hoping to be selected for loans in the future, attend classes and grow their skills.
Spreading the message
Knowing that some of the co-ops might choose to raise goats or that they might travel to lower elevations within the malaria zone to buy large quantities of their sales products, we identified two areas of learning to help them deal with challenges they might encounter and I focused two graduate school projects on researching and creating in-depth lesson plans to address them. One was on invasive plant species in the Naiyobi area of NCA that can be harmful to the environment, their livestock, and their families. The other was about malaria: what it is, how it works, how climate change and human activity are leading to changes in malaria’s distribution in Tanzania. It also examines how drug and insecticide resistance develop, and steps the women can take to minimize their contribution to resistance and their exposure to malaria in general. I taught the lessons while with the women’s group this January and was inspired by their interest, engagement, prior knowledge, and enthusiasm to use their new knowledge. I left the lesson plans with the village officer and encouraged him to share them with the school teachers and NCA rangers. I hope that he will. The lesson plans are also available at the end of this article for anyone that might find them helpful. It is my hope that they inspire other teachers, students, and families to act as good stewards of one another and the beautiful places that shape and sustain us.
Kim Laizer works as an Education Manager for NatureBridge in Yosemite National Park. She initiated this project as part of her graduate work through the Global Field Program of Project Dragonfly at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. To learn more about the Naiyobi Women’s Project and future developments and perhaps make a contribution, visit www.crowdrise.com/Naiyobiwomensproject. For full-length versions of her lesson plans including background information and glossaries, email Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lesson Plan 1 – Laizer.ChangingwithMalariaLessonPlan.ITM. 4.8.17
Lesson Plan 2 – Laizer.InvasiveSpeciesLessonPlan.ITM 4.8.17
For the first part of Kim’s story see: