Meet the Activists: Esther Somoire

MRG’s Web and Production Editor, Kristen Harrison, met Esther Somoire at the Minority Voices Training in Botswana.

Esther is the founder of Centre for Indigenous Women and Children (CIWOCH), a community-based organisation working primarily with the Maasai communities of Southern Kenya. The Maasai are a pastoralist people with a strong and vibrant culture. As nomadic people, most Maasai move from place to place, though settled communities do exist. Cattle farming is the main livelihood while the traditional staple foods are milk, meat and blood from cows.

Modern challenges have seen a significant shift in the tradition roles of men and women. In the past, the roles were clearly defined: men provided for the family through income from cattle farming, while women took care of the domestic duties, such as milking the cows, fetching firewood and water, cooking, building and maintaining the house and, of course, minding the children. Nowadays, cattle farming is a far less lucrative business, largely due to the effects of climate change on an already arid landscape, so women are having to undertake additional tasks to financially support their families. Entrepreneurial women like Esther are finding new ways to empower women and help them draw income from their vast skills. Jewellery making and basket weaving are among them.

CIWOCH began just three years ago and already it has implemented a wide range of highly successful (and inspiring) activities and outreach programmes, including:

Peer Education

Training 120 Maasai youth in peer education. Trainees have group and one-on-one sessions with peers on health issues, education and human rights, then meet monthly for feedback meetings to report back.

Theatre and Performance

Training 48 participants in the use of theatre for community education. Participants use theatre to mobilise people at community gatherings such as cattle markets, water points, traditional ceremonies, international days, health days, and so on. They successfully communicate important messages relating to health, education, human rights and even vital news such as disease outbreaks (human and livestock).

Mother-Girls Forum

Implementing a “mother-girls forum” to encourage communication between mothers and teenage daughters on issues of adolescent and reproductive health. This important initiative helps to break down the barriers of silence that often exist between mothers and daughters, and encourage them to talk openly with each other about a range of issues.

Orphans and Vulnerable Children Support Programme

Providing orphans and vulnerable children with  psycho-social support, school fees assistance, uniforms and nutritional support. At least 800 children have so far been registered under this programme.

Lifeskills

Training 24 teachers to carry out lifeskills sessions (lifeskills have been defined by the World Health Organization as “abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life”) in their respective schools, and to facilitate and run lifeskills clubs.

Support for Teenage Girls

Supplying sanitary towels to over 200 girls so far (this is a very new initiative). For most Maasai girls, menstruation is embarrassing and unmanageable and can be an obstacle to continuing their school education. This programme allows girls to better manage their periods and remain in school. Meeting Esther was a truly special experience. We talked a lot about her work, her motivations, and what keeps her going every day, and with each conversation I became more in awe of her absolute resilience, intelligence and commitment.

Esther is motivated to do her work because of her personal experiences: she was raised in a polygamous household, faced an arranged marriage, FGM, limited access to education and, at 20, lost her mother and so had to raise her siblings. She has now built a small semi-permanent home for her siblings, has married a man who supports her life as an activist, runs her own cattle farm and works tirelessly to give young Maasai women a better life than she had. Spending time with Esther filled me with a renewed energy and I can’t wait to see what other exciting work CIWOCH do in the coming years.

Viva CIWOCH!

Contact

Get in touch with Esther Somoire via CIWOCH:
PO Box 3 – 00205, Magadi
Ph: 020-8014092/0722-904808
Email: ciwoch@gmail.com

Or contact Mohamed Motavu, MRG's Africa Regional Information Officer via the Contact page. 

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