Update on the Umoja Women

Posted on June 20, 2013, by Jane Wilner, Umoja Women's Foundation

Since the initial broadcast of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, in which Umoja was featured, their online sales of beaded items have totaled over $15,000. Many viewers chose this method to support the women, who depend on the income from their bead production to provide for their families. With the help of a new web site designed with funds from Half the Sky Movement, online sales poured in with an easy click of the mouse. The Umoja women did have a challenge keeping up with production within the first few months after the film's October 2012 debut in the United States, but most of the buyers were patient. Orders continue be placed in response to subsequent viewings in other countries.

In response to the film screenings, donations to the Umoja Women's Foundation have totaled over $13,000, coming from people all over the world, including matching gift donations from Microsoft.


Samburu women conducting business

How has this made a difference to the Samburu women and families who were shown to be struggling for survival in this marginalized area of Kenya?

Currently, the foundation operates in a direct partnership with the women of Umoja and their sister villages, acting as the steward of the funds collected. The income from both sales and donations goes directly to the women. Each month the Umoja Women’s Foundation disburses approximately $2,500 for the following projects:

1. Supply fresh water to the newly built water tank
2. Purchase food and fire wood for preschool lunches
3. Provide salaries for 2 preschool teachers
4. Cover health care visits to the local clinic
5. Provide a monthly stipend to each woman for the care of her family

With the additional funds from donations, we are able to continue and expand our ongoing projects, including scholarships for secondary and primary school students and one scholarship for a professional management student through 2013.

Our concern for the sustainability within the Umoja community is serious. This latest surge in sales and donations will not provide the support these women need beyond 2013. However, because of the amount of donations received this year, our foundation has partnered with the BOMA project by giving them a grant to train the women of Umoja and several other neighboring villages to become self-sufficient through a highly effective business enterprise program.

The women in this program have confidence in their own future and know that their income will not depend on the whim of an individual or the weather or the changing tourist trade. We are already seeing results within the new village of Unity where the women are selling goat skins. For the first time, several women in Umoja have deposited their monthly stipends into bank accounts and are using their cell phones to purchase food. They have money and it is secure. They are becoming part of the local economy. There is a long way to go but these are very exciting changes. The women featured in the film are enjoying an unprecedented measure of health and security. We give massive thanks to our supporters! We are also grateful to Rebecca Lolosoli, whose compelling story has brought many opportunities for our foundation and for Umoja.

Jane Wilner is director of the Umoja Women's Foundation.