What you need to know:
- Nasieku travels twice a week to attend the project.
- Together, the group makes roughly 400 litres of liquid soap (hand, laundry and dishwasher) per week, which they sell to safari camps, schools, hospitals and within the community.
- Some of the profit is used to buy materials, while the rest is deposited into a savings account.
- Esidai Women’s Group make reusable sanitary pads for local women and girls. The group of eight meet five times a week, and each earns Sh400 a day.
The first time Nasieku Kimoro ventured outside her house, she panicked. Before this, the 26-year-old had never travelled far. She stayed inside from “morning to night” to cook, clean and tend to her family.
But when she heard about a potential business venture in her community, she wanted to find out more.
“I left my five children and livestock behind,” she says in a quiet voice. “I’d never done that before. I felt scared.”
Nasieku swallowed her sense of unease and travelled 8km to Engos in the Mara Triangle. Here, she attended her first meeting for a new soap-making project called Il-aaramatak (to take care or protect in Maa).
Standing next to 27 fellow Maasai women, she was given the low-down; make soap to use and sell for extra income.
“At first I wasn’t sure,” she says.
“But when I saw other women coming to work, I felt better... that gave me motivation.”
Six months later, Nasieku is more at ease. She travels twice a week to attend the project. Together, the group makes roughly 400 litres of liquid soap (hand, laundry and dishwasher) per week, which they sell to safari camps, schools, hospitals and within the community.
The soap business is proving lucrative.
A five litre costs Sh600, while 20 litres is Sh2,400. The group makes between Sh4,800 and Sh57,600 per month.
Some of the profit is used to buy materials, while the rest is deposited into a savings account. At the end of the year, the total will be split among the members (each will get a cow).
The dream? To build a modern house for each woman and educate their children.
“We’re bringing in money,” explains Nasieku, now smiling. “I’m saving in a bank - I had nothing like that in my life before.”
Like most women in the project, this is Nasieku’s first job.
Traditionally, Maasai women never pursued an occupation outside of the family. While their husbands went off to work, the women were responsible for household chores; milking cows, fetching water, and collecting firewood, as well as raising the children.
Maasai women sell beadwork, an important source of income, and is not considered a controversial business. You don’t need to leave your house to craft hundreds of tiny, brightly coloured balls into jewellery (and can still oversee chores).
“For Maasai people, women are not important,” William Kikanae, a Maasai community leader, says.
“They don’t have power like a man.”
Still, this is evidently changing - and not just in the Mara Triangle. An hour’s drive away, in Kilgoris, Narok County, another group of Maasai women are breaking out of their strict gender roles.
REUSABLE SANITARY TOWELS
The Esidai Women’s Group sew reusable sanitary pads for local women and girls. The group of eight meet five times a week, and each earns Sh400 a day.
Feminine hygiene products are expensive and rarely available here. This is despite Kenya passing a law in 2017, which required the government to distribute free sanitary pads to all schoolgirls.
In 2018, 14-year-old Jackline Chepngeno took her own life in Bomet County after her teacher allegedly embarrassed her for having her period in class. It was her first period, and she did not have a sanitary pad.
“The free pads don’t reach the schools here,” explains Caroline Kiugo, Project Manager at the Anne K. Taylor Fund (AKTF), the organisation behind both soap and pad projects.
“Maybe it’s the distance. There’s also no consistency. The girls will have pads in the first or second term but by third term, there’s nothing. Periods don’t stop because the government have stopped delivering pads.
“The women are filling the gap. They split into two groups; the first cut and the second stitch the baby-pink coloured layers together.
Now in its second year, they have distributed pads to 730 girls across 17 schools in the area - their target is 4,900.
Each pack contains four reusable pads, which should last a year. They serve the local women, too. At Sh250 a pack, the pads are more affordable than the disposable ones sold in shops.
“I used to stay at home doing nothing,’ explains 28-year-old JenRose, who’s been working for Esidai (something good or smart in Maa) for two years.
“Now I have a sense of purpose. When I go home there’s food on the table and the kids are happy.”
Every Maasai woman we talk to says her husband is happy for her to work. In fact, they actively encourage it. This, however, isn’t exactly clear-cut.
“Most husbands just stay at home,” explains Regina Mpatiany, Esidai’s Project Manager (the women sew in her house because she has electricity).
“Even those who do work, many of them will drink the money away. For the women, whatever they make is used for food, school fees and clothes. The woman is the main source of income, which is difficult.”
It’s a concern echoed by 70-year-old Koko Naishowa, who has witnessed the changing lives of Maasai women over decades. She lives on the land where the soap project runs.
“In my time, women would wait for their husbands to come home with nothing. Now we’re allowed to work, but the men still return with nothing. The women have realised that to survive, they need to be independent.”
Despite the extra workload, the women say they’re happier. They like having diverse income revenues.
The women are learning new skills, too. Seneiyu Kimoro, for example, had never worked before the soap project. After joining, she needed to learn how to sell a product - and fast. She let the local women visit her house to watch her use the soap and shared samples.
“I sold my first batch without any challenges,” she says, proudly.
“I was happy to sell a litre, but now I sell more. I’m not just a woman who sits at home, I’m a businesswoman. Now I’m entitled to demand things.”