Pastoral communities in northern Kenya face food shortages, especially during times of drought. But many families in the village of Ngurunit are better off thanks to a project by the aid group Heifer International - Kenya. There, women are given camels and training on how to care for them. Having women own and manage camels is a fairly new concept in Samburu culture, but has paid off handsomely in terms of more income and food for families.
When Naitibik Lematacho received a camel from Heifer International over a year ago it changed her life.
The donation gives her much more than just milk: it gives her independence.
"This camel is mine," she said. "I can now milk my own camel. I could not milk my husband's camels but this is mine and I milk without my husband's permission. The milk I get is purely mine. I give the milk to my children and take it to the market to sell. The camel is my life now."
Heifer International provides camels and the training to care for them in order to increase food security in this semi-arid area occupied primarily by the Samburu ethnic group.
Training: more than care for the camel
Ruth Masha conducts training in Ngurunit. She explains that a woman feeds most of the milk to her family before selling the excess, but a man will tend to sell the milk and use the money for socializing rather than buy food for his family.
"During my training, there was another lady who walked up and said, 'In fact, right now we are very happy, we are very motivated because of the camels. We have the ownership. Now I can also go to the shop and purchase sugar whereby I used to wait for my husband to bring everything, even a matchbox, but at the moment I can also go to the shop and buy sugar for the family,'" Masha said.
Masha adds that some of the women's groups have started other businesses with the training and profits they received from the camel project.
Reuben Lemunyete, a consultant for the camel project, explains that, in Samburu culture, while women manage the household, men typically care for the camels.
"I remember when we started with the first group, Salato group. They [women] were not believing that they could get the camels, because to give somebody a camel is like giving something like a Mercedes Benz," Lemunyete said. "So they were very happy about it. The men, they were doubting whether the women could really manage the camels."
Lemunyete recalls that men in the village initially resisted having the women own and manage the camels, but have since come to accept the arrangement.
Village residents and Heifer International - Kenya staff report that household incomes and food availability have increased in Ngurunit since the project's inception a decade ago. Camels are ideal for this project because they live in arid climates, requiring less water than other animals. They eat whatever vegetation is available, and provide more milk than other livestock, even during times of drought.
Heifer International - Kenya has distributed more than 500 camels to women in Ngurunit since 1999.