My intense feelings of admiration and respect for the Samburu are continually strengthened by their unwavering determination to improve their lives in the face of unimaginable hardship!

My name is Wilma Johnson and I started Tribal Advancement in 1991 as a way of helping the new Samburu friends I had been introduced to while vacationing in Kenya. By sheer chance during my vacation I met a young warrior of this Samburu tribe, Michael Lenaimado, who invited me to travel north to meet his people. I lived with them in their huts for 3 weeks and shared their daily struggle to survive.

The Samburu are an ancient tribal people living in a distant area of northern Kenya. In their previous existence they were semi-nomadic pastoralists relying on their herds for food and survival. Now they live in small groupings of family huts called manyattas. They are closely related to the Maasai who have similar language and traditions. However, generations of colonialism have forced them into abject poverty and the inability to maintain their nomadic life. Now, with great determination, and the help of Tribal Advancement, these Samburu are eagerly and creatively restructuring their lives.
Samburu warrior at a tribal gathering.

Typical Samburu hut in a manyatta.
I was stunned by the overall harshness of the Samburu’s lives. Ancient traditions had been severely and cruelly curtailed by the non-African immigrants the Samburu call Colonials and no one had helped the Samburu to integrate with western culture. Instead, the Colonials have stolen their lands, fenced off their permanent waterholes and caused widespread death among the tribes-people as a result of limited access to food and water. Historically, during times of drought the Samburu would migrate to large permanent waterholes and live there until the rains came, then return to their favored acacia plains and mountains. This way of life is no longer possible and the Samburu are now determined to gain literacy, education, and the ability to create family income as they realize the importance of integrating tribal traditions with western culture.

Prior to meeting the Samburu, I had spent several months each year over a six year period (1986-1992) educating and supporting the Aymara Indian people in Bolivia as they struggled to improve their lives. I am a Registered Nurse and have a Ph.D. in International Village Development from the University of Utah. The research work for my Ph.D. occurred among the Aymara. I also spent one month a year during that time working with the indigenous people in Guatemala.

Manyatta on the acacia plane.

I was determined to work with the Samburu to help support them in their efforts to improve their lives and have returned for a month every year since 1991. My efforts have been centered in an area named Ntepes by the Samburu. Ntepes is located on a large acacia plain at the base of high forested mountains, and is approximately a 2 mile walk on dirt trails to the small trading town in northern Kenya named Wamba (click for a google map location of Wamba). I began raising donations in America for the projects that I discuss and plan with the Samburu at group tribal meetings during my visits each year.

Of particular importance, the younger men have now chosen to include the women in these tribal meetings and this has contributed strongly to the empowerment of these women. The younger women are now broadly involved in decision-making within the family and the tribe. Over the years these women have gained literacy, micro-credit loans, and the ability to earn income with their small businesses, helped plan and implement projects, and they have earned the respect and admiration of the men. I strongly believe that the empowerment of women directly correlates with a general improvement in quality of life throughout the whole tribe, and this has been an important factor in the advancement of the Samburu in this area.

The goal of Tribal Advancement is to spur hope, determination and pride within the small group of Samburu I am able to help by providing them the opportunity, knowledge and education they desperately seek as a means to improve their lives. While I am the only outsider working with the Samburu in this particularly remote area of Kenya, the tribes have made extraordinary gains with very limited resources. This website is a way of sharing their struggle for life and the tremendous advances that are possible, and I hope you will join with me in my admiration of the Samburu and my desire to facilitate their Tribal Advancement.

Young Samburu dressed for a celebration.