|The Women's Group|
Six weeks ago, GVI Community Development Intern Kate Barry began talking to women working for KEEP about how they feel they contribute to the conservation of the forest. Women working for KEEP admitted that they did not know very much about conservation, because their main focus is putting food on the table for their families every day. Although some women have found alternative income from the tree nursery, many still depended on gathering wood from the forest to make charcoal to sell at the market to account for their daily bread. Many women felt disconnected and underdeveloped when it came to getting involved in the tourism aspect of KEEP, the Eco-Lodge bandas. They noticed that many visitors were coming through the bandas, and that they were paying guides a lot of money for tours, but they did not know how to gain a piece of that market. Kate and the women decided that they would form a Women’s group specifically dedicated to education, empowerment, and organizing themselves to become more independent and gain a sustainable living by becoming more involved in eco-tourism. The money from their ecotourism plan would be invested by the group towards conservation initiatives such as starting their own group tree nursery and bee-hive keeping schemes.
|Dancing to greet the visitors|
The women quickly organized themselves and began work on the project. Within two weeks they had written up a group constitution, had elected an executive board, and written long-term goals and objectives for the group. They also came up with a name, the Isecheno Women Conservation Group. There are 26 members as of now, and they hope to expand and create more groups as they become more established and can educate other women on how to get involved in ecotourism and conservation activities. The group is dedicated to empowering women living in and around Kakamega Forest through ecotourism and conservation activities as well as initiating environmentally conscious income-generating activities that will boost the standard of living of women and the community. The idea behind a women’s group is not only to empower the women, but to spread the wealth of those tourists coming to the forest to the broader community. The women decided to program a community tour for guests, a tour that would be a “sharing” of the lives of Luhya women today. They show visitors the hardships of daily life – walking down a sharp ravine to gather water four times a day – and also the joys of talking over hot chai and cooking traditional foods. Tours cost 900 KSH per person, about 12 USD, and include food, chai and mandazis.
The women had their first tour last week, and although everyone was a little nervous about “pulling it off”, they did with flying colours. A group of University of New England students volunteered to be the first test subjects, and they were extremely impressed with the group’s organization and thoroughness, they described the experience as “something they had never seen anywhere else in Kenya”. The women made over 11,000KSH that day, not including a nice tip that the students left because they felt so moved by the group and their work. Each woman was able to bring home 500KSH, which is three times as much as they would have made selling charcoal, and the rest of the money is being used to register the group officially. Once registered the women plan on opening their own bank account and get an accounting lesson from one of the local banks on how to budget and invest for the future. The women are ready for more guests and are very excited at the opportunities and prospects that this group has given them, as chairwoman Beatrice Asudi commented “when we are empowered, nothing can stop us from reaching our goals.”
|Explaining the tea plantation and its benefits for the rainforest |
Kate Barry- Community Intern