Monday, 25 August 2014

Dynamics of what constitutes development

By Margaret Lewis-John, 2nd year MDP student

I am in Kenya progressing with my field placement and having a wonderful time. I am working as an intern with Indigenous Information network (IIN).  This is an NGO which has done various developmental projects on education, especially on the “Girl Child”, climate change, advocacy on female genital mutilation (FGM) and various environmental issues.  I visited some communities in the Rift Valley in the county of Marsabit and have truly experienced indigenous way of life among pastoralist Maasai people.

My visit was mainly to conduct leadership training to empower women on their participation in their county's governance and economic development.  Also, it was an opportunity to conduct a baseline survey on the needs of women in the Marsabit County in three communities; Korr, Karigi and Samburu and assess the ways IIN could assist in their development.  Additionally, it was my first time visiting an arid region; I was able to observe the changes in the natural vegetation from Nairobi to Karigi. I am certain that I saw more than 15 vegetation zones as I traversed on my way through the desert.  It was an amazing experience as I reminisced on my childhood days of reading stories of foxes waiting for a stray goat to have as their dinner and to see foxes waiting as we passed through the desert region; only to find a herd of goats and sheep not too far in the distance.   

Margaret visiting some children in Karigi at a dry river bed in the area of the Rift Valley
The effects of climate change in this region are quite evident as many rivers have become dry land, while most areas are very dusty.  Likewise, as one drives through this desert region it’s not hard to see that if you meet anyone who is out pasturing their animals, it’s not money or food they will ask for but simply; Water! Yes water!  Large acres of land without a cloud in the sky and no trees around, yet the animals (goats and camels) all look healthy. They have adapted to the harsh climatic conditions to enable their survival.  
Margaret with Indigenous women from Korr
In one week, I could share experiences relating to governance, health, education, housing, economic livelihoods, climate change, human and food security, poverty and globalization. In essence, every aspect of the MDP program which relates to western interpretation of what is a good life and what constitutes poverty among these communities.  Despite western interpretations of what constitute happiness and development it was not hard to see the proud display of Maasai culture was not just for us visitors, but as part of their daily lifestyle.

The intact ways in which some communities exist will certainly not fit into the western definition of what they will term as development.  In the Samburu reserve, both animals and man co-exist (lions, tigers, giraffes, elephants, crocodiles).  Many of the modern amenities we take for granted are non-existent in these communities, yet I did not miss any of them and was able to get my own manyatta (house) with 2 beds.
Traditional house in Kagiri

Moreover, I did not even need a fan as the cool desert wind in the night seems to be still present during the day that my manyatta (house) was always welcoming like what I usually hear when I visit the Maasai market in town,  Karibu! Karibu! (Welcome, welcome).  This field experience to the Marsabit County shows different ways in which development can be viewed and tailored based on local needs and perspectives and not from the point of view of the practitioner. 

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