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Story by Katie Machell, photos by Jayson Morris

Jayson Morris, Social Entrepreneurship Portfolio Director for the Peery Foundation, was on the second stage of a series of site visits in Africa when he travelled on the MAF shuttle to Marsabit in September. Formerly an Investment Banker, he joined the Peery Foundation, a foundation started by members of the Peery family several decades ago giving grants to social entrepreneurs and organizations both locally and globally.

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Women attend the BOMA training.

In Marsabit, Kenya, BOMA Project is one of those grant recipients, and Jayson flew there to catch up with local staff, participate in some training, and to meet some of the people whose lives have been impacted by the project.

BOMA works with women who meet the description of ‘ultra-poor’, helping groups of three women start small group businesses which provide the means to buy food, pay school fees and cover medical costs for their families. Participants receive business training, including areas such as inventory, savings and re-investment; and then with a micro-grant equivalent to around US$150, they are encouraged to purchase stock and start selling.

There is also the potential to accumulate savings, which gives the women and their families long-term stability, and much more resilience to the challenges their environment presents. Based in Marsabit and Samburu Counties in northern Kenya, the project focuses on this remote, rural area as the climate makes it prone to drought, and residents struggle to survive with the highest poverty rates in the country.

Kathleen Colson, BOMA project founder, had spent time in northern Kenya at the invitation of local Member of Parliament Joseph Lekuton, who wanted her to see first-hand how the lives of pastoral communities were being devastated by climate change. As a result of her extended trips in the region, consulting with and listening to village elders, faith leaders, community development workers and local residents, she came to the conclusion that the most effective way to tackle poverty was through improving the economic potential of women. She also appreciated that any long-term solution must be embraced and led by locals in order to succeed. With these principles at the forefront, the organisation started in 2005, and since then BOMA project has already impacted the lives of more than 44,000 women and children.

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Jayson Morris on the MAF Marsabit shuttle.

On his way back through Nairobi, Jayson shared some highlights of his visit. ‘The trip was fantastic,’ he enthused. ‘After landing, we jumped in an SUV and headed three hours out into the middle of nowhere. Quite literally, aside from a couple of nomadic shepherd boys there wasn’t a site of civilization close or even on the horizon for the entire trip.’

‘Finally,’ he continued, ‘we stumbled into the semi nomadic village of Kargi, where we attended training for approximately 60 women who between them are forming 20 businesses. We spent the next two days visiting villages and seeing how the businesses were developing

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Healed woman now sending her daughter to University.

. The stories of improved livelihoods, increased confidence to the point the women now travel as far as Nairobi to buy goods, and the effects on the health of their family and community came pouring in.’

Jayson was particularly impacted by the testimony he heard from a woman in one of the saving groups that BOMA supports. For a long time, she had struggled with an undiagnosed illness that left her bed ridden and barely able to move. Then the saving group gave her a loan to visit a doctor, and after several consultations, she was healed. She went on to pay back the loan, and is now sending one of her children to university. She has also become one of the leaders in advocating for the education of women in the community.

Jayson expressed his appreciation for the flight to Marsabit. As his time for visiting the project was limited, it was crucial that his journey was as efficient as possible. ‘It’s wonderful,’ he said, ‘I couldn’t do it if I had to drive both ways.’