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
death among the tribes-people as a result of limited access
to food and water. Historically, during times of drought the Samburu
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
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
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
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.