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OUR STORY

THE SAMBURU TRUST

We started the Samburu Trust nearly three decades ago for so many different reasons, but perhaps most important is that we recognized how incredibly special the Samburu People are on the deepest levels. We started to observe their physical and spiritual environment and saw that we could support and empower the Samburu to do what they do best, without interfering with their life. Our philosophy: It is essential to foster and facilitate, not hinder and westernize. As such, we are incredibly protective and respectful of our relationship with the Samburu, and vice versa.

The ancient Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tzu once said: 

 
 

“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. When the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say 'We have done
this ourselves.’”

 
 

This quote gives insight into the way we work. Since 1992, when we founded the Trust, we have worked tirelessly and below the radar on six key areas: education, women, health, water, security and wildlife. To this end, we developed and continuously update our plan to keep us focused on this massive journey of a lifetime.   

 

 
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OUR LOGO

We wanted our new logo to have great meaning for the Samburu people, and it represents a few things.

First, the logo is the horn of a cow, the most prized possession and absolute life-blood of the Samburu. We can never underestimate the importance of the cattle and we see this in the Samburu’s way of life, every day, all day. The word for life, Nkishon, comes from the word for cattle, Ngishu, and in Samburu thinking, “Where there are cows, there is no cold.” Translated, it effectively means: If our cows are healthy, we will have abundance in our lives.

The horn also symbolizes the shape of the moon in a certain stage of each lunar cycle. Every Samburu child learns that the symbol has great meaning, including that the old cycle is ending and the new one is near. This is to say, “This is a time to have peace and to rest and renew yourself. Relax and surrender to the universe. Some things will always be out of your control and fate must take its course.”

The logo shows strength and solidity, two things we love about the Samburu and what we pride ourselves on being too.We hope you love our new logo as much as we do!

 

OUR MISSION

In all the work we do at the Samburu Trust, we constantly calibrate against these three questions:

1.     Are we uplifting and giving strength to the Samburu people?

2.     Are we protecting the land and the wildlife for a shared future?

3.     Are we sustaining the Samburu peoples’ way of life, through great respect of traditional knowledge and practices? 

 

Our Objectives

Conferring with the Samburu Elders, our Samburu Trust core objectives revolve around the following:

  • Employment of women so they remain educated and focused on the significant and traditional skills which support their entire community.  

  • Customized education for children to respect the culture, the land and the traditions. 

  • Protecting the elephants who are giants in the bio-network and essential to a healthy, sustainable ecosystem surrounding the Samburu.   

 

TWO IMPORTANT SAMBURU WORDS

 
 
 

NGANYET

“a great, big respect,” a core value of the Samburu people

 

RETO

“giving kindness,” to uplift
and give strength

 
 
 

About The Samburu PEOPLE 

The Samburu Trust works in an area stretching from the Laikipia Donyo highland Mountains to Lpurikel, the dry deserts of Samburu. We call this area the Waso corridor, the Waso is the main source of water into northern Kenya forming an essential part of life. This is where the Samburu live. 

The Tribal land is vast and divided into nine clan areas, each overseen by an authority of Elders who keep their people united and strong. Every member of the clan is part of an age-set system, which gives them a specific, well-defined role. Everyone knows his/her role and what is expected of him/her from birth.

The Samburu Warriors are the protectors and their main role is to look after the cattle and protect the boundaries of their clan land.  

The women, Mamas, are the backbone of family life, strong matriarchs and loving mothers who look after the children and community with beauty and pride.  

The Samburu people are a warrior tribe who have learned to thrive over time in this incredibly beautiful but harsh environment. They naturally protect wildlife and refer to elephants as a tribe, made up of individuals with unique character traits and distinct families groups. Each aspect of an elephant is dependent on the state of the elephant tribe as a whole.  

What the Samburu are facing:

The number one issue for the Samburu is to survive in a rapidly changing world. The culture is breaking down because of the increasing populations, degraded land and natural resources, encroaching westernization, guns and a demand for ivory. Traditional knowledge, which was passed from generation to generation and which was the very essence of their survival, is getting lost.

The number two issue is drought. In 2009 the Waso River dried up for the first time in living memory. With water levels dropping dramatically, the land is becoming degraded and the pastoral lives of the people and wildlife is under threat. The health of the ecosystem is critical to survival and the need to protect natural resources has never been greater.   

Our Samburu Elders tell us:

“Our word for life, nkishon, comes from our word for cattle, nkishu. Our cattle are the center of our world. They sustain us and we take care of them. But the rains are less and the droughts are longer and day by day surviving droughts is becoming harder and harder.”


 
 
 

Our WORK

Respecting traditional knowledge, the Trust’s work is overseen by an authority of Elders. 

What makes us special: this year, after 20 years, we have fully transformed the structure of the Trust to follow the traditional age-set structure of the Samburu people. 

We are prioritizing learning from them and spending time to gain their knowledge to help find solutions. 

With increasing drought, there is huge pressure on natural resources and the land. Keeping the land healthy and migration routes open is key to the survival of the people, cattle and wildlife.

 
 
 

BEAD WORKSHOP

Mission: to give mamas employment so they can live how they strongly choose, supporting their children and their community.

 

Our workshop helps the Mamas to continue to pass down their traditional beading skills to next generation – so all culture is not lost. 

Born from drought, the Beads for Food program was set up during the 1999-2000 drought when women and children were left in manyattas and the men tried to keep their livestock alive. In exchange for their beads, the Samburu women were given food for their children. The program was so effective that within a week there were more than 600 women exchanging their beads for food.

When the rains eventually came, the Beads for Food program evolved into a workshop where the mamas can gather and practice their ancient art of beading. Using traditional beads and patterns, they are able to perpetuate this part of Samburu culture, which was previously dying out. The beads are much more than decoration: they tell a story, a diary of life. The beaded pieces communicate to the tribe where the wearer falls into their tribal structure. Every piece is woven with the spirit and soul of the Samburu.

With the money they earn through the Bead Workshop, the Samburu mamas are empowered and allowed the freedom to live their lives how they choose. By uplifting the women in the community, we uplift the entire tribe. They are able to feed and educate their children and pass on the ancient beading traditions to younger women.

Despite the prolonged drought in 2017, the Trust did not have to bring food aid to the Samburu. The mamas supported their communities entirely from the money they made through the Bead Workshop. Each Mama supported over 40 people.

 
 

 
 

EDUCATION

Mission: to develop a unique system of learning which is relevant to pastoralist children – Giving children wings to fly whilst keeping their feet strongly rooted in the land.

 

Following the 1999-2000 drought the community requested a school for the children in the Morijo area. The closest school is over 2 hours away by foot – which, with an elephant migratory migratory path in between, was risky.  We began with the modest goal of providing 100 children a community school. The project has grown into a model of learning for pastoralist children in northern Kenya.

With increased droughts and a rapidly changing world we need strong children to become strong leaders and thinkers. There was no school nearby so the Trust built a small school and our community has worked to create a model for learning, which suits the Samburu people and their nomadic lifestyle. We customize our education to respect the culture, land and traditions of the Samburu children.

The teachers are chosen from the Samburu community, which enables the children to learn in their own language. There is a culture of respect in the classroom, to give the children wings to fly while keeping their feet strongly rooted in their land.

The children learn in their mother tongue through storytelling and song, the way their tribe naturally shares information and passes on knowledge, keeping the children connected to their land and their culture.

The Trust aims to train more teachers and create a model curriculum and system of learning relevant to pastoralist children and always in their native language. We plan to add a class a year and for the school to grow into a full primary school and a golden model for pastoralist children.

Now named Naitengen, “an area to pass knowledge,” the project trains Samburu teachers. Our vision is for our school to support a number of community schools in the surrounding area. Supporting teachers and providing food and materials, we customize our education to respect the culture, the land, the traditions of the children. 

 
 

 
 

HEALTHCARE

Mission: to eradicate trachoma and provide lifesaving treatment for burns and medical emergencies. 

 

We began with the simple objective of improving the health of the women and children suffering during the 1999-2000 drought. Over 80 percent of the community was suffering from trachoma – a blinding eye disease transmitted by flies. Through preventative measures, mobile clinics and our intimate knowledge of the migrations and culture of the Samburu, we have successfully returned sight to over 500 people suffering from trachoma and have successfully eradicated the disease in other nearby pastoralist communities as well.

The Samburu people live alongside wildlife in small homesteads with open fires. Common health risks include dehydration, an extraordinary range of hazards from burns, injuries caused by wildlife (snakebite, elephants and buffalo), malnutrition and common infections. Children are particularly susceptible. Our health program aims to uplift and support the Samburu people who live alongside wildlife, while also protecting it.

 
 

 
 

WILDLIFE

Mission: to protect elephant and all wildlife from poaching. Keep migration route open and reduce conflict between people and wildlife.

 

The increase in firearms in Northern Kenya has brought insecurity and has opened up the ivory market and the illegal killing of elephants. Traditionally, the role of the Samburu Warriors (morani) is to protect the cattle, the people, the land and the wildlife. Working in the spirit of this culture, the Samburu Trust has created a tight-knit, well-respected and well-connected team of warriors to protect the communities and wildlife. They provide the vital link between the KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) and the tribe. These natural guardians of the land focus on general security and wildlife protection but also report any incidents involving pastoralists, livestock, water and rangeland. Using the warriors’ traditional knowledge of the migratory routes of wildlife and the pastoralists’ cattle, and the ability to communicate with the tribe, has been key to the Trust’s success in protecting wildlife throughout the area in which we work.

The nomadic journey of the Samburu pastoralists is one of the world’s most incredible methods of survival and least-understood of human migrations. With modernization, population increase, urban development and the increase in illegal firearms, ancient migratory routes are being blocked and wildlife, people and land are under threat. Keeping migratory routes open is not only critical for the future of the Samburu tribe, but also for the wildlife with which they share their land. 

The Samburu Trust aims to expand the team of Warriors and continue to empower them to protect the land and keep migration routes open for both wildlife and pastoralists.

 
 

 
 

WATER

Mission: to provide a sustainable system for water which not only provides clean water – but also prevents erosion and provides a base in which to regenerate rangeland.

 

The Waso River is the main source of water into Northern Kenya. During the 1999 - 2000 drought, people, livestock and wildlife migrated in the thousands into the fragile valley eco-system bordering the river. The result was severe overgrazing and erosion threatening the future of this critical water source. In 2009, the Waso River dried up for the first time in living memory.

With increased and longer droughts the river ecosystem is more and more under threat. Animals, both livestock and wildlife, over-graze the riverbanks destroying their source of life and exacerbating the problem. As the river becomes more seasonal, flooding becomes more frequent, eroding the topsoil and degrading the land further.

Using the knowledge of the tribal Elders and their deep understanding of the land and the migratory routes of animals, the Trust has created a network of clean water reservoirs, or salangos, along the migratory routes, above the river valley to eleviate pressure on the river eco-system.

The salangos collect rainwater, preventing erosion and providing clean, safe water from which people, livestock and wildlife can drink.

With changing weather patterns — increased drought followed by heavy rains — the salango dams are a priority in protecting our rangelands and keeping the migration paths of both wildlife and people open. The network of salangos creates a balance within the eco-system and a natural method of managing land for future generations.

To date the Trust has dug seven salangos with plans to build another 36 in the next ten years.