The women are all from Amboseli in southern Kenya, where wildlife communities are heavily dependent on natural resources for shelter, food, water and fuel. The need to create an income for the families increases the pressure on nature and wildlife. Agriculture and animal husbandry violate the space of the wild fauna. Crops are sold to generate income or to serve as food. Formerly wild animal pastures are used to grow crops and raise livestock, leaving less room for wildlife. Habitat loss and migration routes lead to an increase in the conflict between humans and wildlife at an alarming rate. This includes injuries and deaths among both humans and wildlife.
Vocational training through Jenga Mama
Women are at the forefront of interacting with nature when they provide for their families, but are ironically put on the sidelines when it comes to socio-economic independence and leadership over their lives and the natural resources they interact with. The education project Jenga Mama (Swahili for “Empower Women”) offers three-year vocational training, where professions such as hairdresser, tailor and catering prove to be a popular choice among applicants.
“The project enables women, for the first time, to become financially independent and create sustainable incomes for their families and communities,” said James Isiche, IFAW’s Regional Director for East Africa. “As successful small business owners, they will become less dependent on the wildlife and habitats of the Amboseli communities. Instead, they will advocate for the protection and safety of wildlife.”
Families are currently heavily dependent on natural resources for firewood, water, house building materials and furniture. With a higher income, they will be able to use other sources, for example using cooking gas instead of firewood from the region. The activities of these families – gathering firewood, guarding livestock and farming – increase the potential for conflict between humans and wildlife, as wild animals spend more than 70 percent of their time in areas where society also lives. These conflicts will be reduced by offering women alternative livelihoods that minimize their interaction with nature and wildlife.
Animal welfare starts with humans
After the training, the women get help to find partners, rent premises, buy machines or equipment and market their small businesses. The German Margarete Breuer Foundation, which will provide full funding for the next three years, is an essential part of the project concept.
“We fund the project to provide young women with equal employment and participation opportunities. Support for initiatives that sustainably improve human and animal welfare is central to the design and funding of projects,” said Peter H. Dehnen, CEO of the Margarete Breuer Foundation. “The Jenga Mama project gives 60 young women and girls in Kenya the opportunity to take control of their own lives and become financially independent. Only by improving livelihoods will it be possible to permanently alleviate potential conflicts between humans and wildlife. For animal welfare starts with people.”
Alternative sources of income protect wildlife
By creating alternative sources of income that develop stability and leadership, the women of the Jenga Mama project help people in their communities to coexist peacefully with wildlife. Jenga Mama is part of a large long-term initiative by hone International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW): Room to Roam, which aims to reconnect fragmented habitats so that wild animals can once again roam their old routes.
Central to this is the involvement of communities and the creation of alternative sources of income to enable peaceful coexistence between humans and wildlife. At the same time, long-term efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change and protect regional biodiversity are supported.
Since 2013, IFAW has partnered with the OOGR Maasai Community (Olgulului Ololarashi Group Ranch) around Amboseli National Park to secure important migration routes for elephants and other wildlife and in turn generate community revenue opportunities. The Jenga Mama project is part of it.
Text & Photo: IFAW