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Hard Work, Hope & a World of Strong Women: Isiolo.

 Paulina Eken, picking vegetables off her farm in Ngare Mara. Photo by John Kisimir/©ActionAid Kenya

I could not believe my eyes. She told me she had stopped buying vegetables about a year ago – a happy woman and confident of surviving the drought after losing all her livestock.

I was in Isiolo, the sun lazily rising up from the horizon. Maybe I was awakened by the annoying hooting of motorcycles- miss the days when the roaster and the donkey were the natural signals for a new day. I came here to film a project on climate change adaption –It is basically a sophisticated way to say “how people survive droughts.”

I am a child of the desert and have seen enough droughts and does not need to be told what climate change means. So, I was cautious when ActionAid Kenya asked me to find a silver lining in a drought situation. Omar, our driver, gave me a tour around a few farms – all desolate. Maize plants had dried up due to lack of enough rain. He lamented about how much work he has put into training the nomadic Turkana people to grow crops to supplement for the dwindling livestock herds.

The further north we drove, the drier it got and it crossed my mind as to why my pastoralist people tend to settle in the worst of places. The sun was already scorching down on us and it was not even AM. We got to Ngare Mara, a small trading centre on the Moyale-Isiolo Highway and stopped at a homestead without a fence.

Here, I met Paulina Eken, 38, a mother of 9 children. She also takes care of four orphans – children of her deceased friends and relatives.

I expected Paulina to tell stories about the drought and the hunger pangs it inspires and got my notebook to take notes for my story. She beckoned us to a fenced area at the back of the house, opened a small gate and voila! A vegetable garden! I mean really healthy kales, onions and tomatoes.

isiolo kales
Paulina Eken, picking vegetables off her farm in Ngare Mara. Photo by John Kisimir/©ActionAid Kenya
Jonh Kisimir/ActionAid Kenya

I could not believe my eyes. She told me she had stopped buying vegetables about a year ago – a happy woman and confident of surviving the drought after losing all her livestock. She is part of a group of women who have tried to grow crops in a larger piece of land but the rain was not sufficient. Lucky enough, ActionAid had introduced them to various ventures that included table banking and kitchen gardens. Paulina struggles to pay school fees and other bills but at least she is able to feed them.

Next to her is another eccentric lady – Mary Ekeno is who runs a shop that sells Turkana artefacts. Mary makes the artefacts with her own hands and this is helping her put her children through university, high school and primary schools. Table banking financing has immensely helped her to keep her business afloat and it is expanding.  



“It is hard to explain how happy I am,” Mary said. “Without women coming together without our table banking activities, a lot of us would be beyond being poor.”


In the nearby Zebra village, a group of women are working hard to better their lives. Here, poor rains ruined their dreams of a bumper harvest but they have just laid a pipeline that will enable them to irrigate the farm. I found them working on the farm fence – they were sweating, getting their hands dirty.



“Where are the men?” I asked.


“We are the men here. We do everything. We are waiting for no one,” Julieta Ngirisia responded.
In Nabenyo village I met Mekelina, a 33-year old mother who has literally transformed her life by adapting to new farming methods after being trained by ActionAid. Within a year, she is now selling vegetables, onions and tomatoes in the local markets. It is a matter of time before she starts making big money from her ventures.



I learned that Turkana men don’t fancy farming but rather do the culturally “honourable” thing of looking after livestock. Meanwhile, their women are learning new skills, trying business ventures, paying schools fees and planning for the future. 

Life is tough here. The climate is playing games but people’s minds have changed. These women are determined to work harder, adapt and make their lives better.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Kisimir