Meet The Woman Fostering Local Solutions In Drought-Stricken Kenya

Fatuma, founder and director of Horn of Africa Development Initiative in northern Kenya, is no stranger to conflict. But she’s been working for peace her entire life.


Born to parents from warring tribes in Marsabit, Kenya, Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan has a deep commitment to peace—and an impressive resume. She’s a lawyer, recipient of the Stuttgart Peace Prize, and the founder of Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI).

Fatuma is the only female lawyer from her hometown, as well as the only woman NGO leader. HODI, founded in 2003, works to foster peace and advocate for education in northern Kenya, and Fatuma has been a GlobalGiving partner for six years.

She stopped by GlobalGiving’s office in Washington, D.C., after a trip to New York City for the United Nation’s Global Goals World Cup, to speak about HODI’s drought relief work. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: How did your life growing up in northern Kenya inspire you to start the Horn of Africa Development Initiative?

A: As a child, growing up in the north, I always felt I came from Kenya Two. It’s a different Kenya, where people die of hunger. Most of the time of the priorities in northern Kenya are not part of national policy. Outsiders think pastoralism, where nomadic people move from place to place, is not good. They think, “It’s high time you settled in once place.” The people of the north are not consulted in decision-making; it’s what everyone else thinks is best for us.

Being a young girl, then becoming a woman, and being from the north, you face double discrimination in Kenya: You feel like you don’t have a voice and that people don’t listen to you.

Q: In February, the government of Kenya declared a national drought emergency and the number of food insecure people doubled to 2.7 million. Some counties declared instances of acute malnutrition to be above 30 percent and more than 3 million people are without clean water. These enormous numbers are so hard to comprehend — can you tell us what drought and hunger on that scale look like in day-to-day life?

A: Why do we wait until it is too late for us? Until the helicopters fly in and act like they’re doing something? While the drought’s still on, people fly back to Nairobi. Our people have their own pride and want to be dignified. Most of the mothers are feeding their children before they feed themselves, so they are the first victims of drought and hunger. There is no access to clean water. From day to day, drought appears as a slow onset. You know six months before there will be a drought. So, why do we wait until the last minute? It’s not that hard to figure it out. It’s that we don’t want to figure it out. We need to increase resilience and capacity of the communities.

I’m a mother of two children. And if I couldn’t even feed my own two children, I wouldn’t even want to be alive.

Drought makes HODI’s work so much harder. It’s like you’re fighting against everything. We’re working to build resilient communities. Unless every household is resilient, we will always have this issue of people dying of hunger. It is high time that we engage the community in building resilience. When we ask the communities about their priorities, drought is at the top of everyone’s list. We have to start planning for drought before it hits. We know who is vulnerable and how far deep they are in poverty. We want to hold their hand, build their capacities, and support them to be resilient.

Q: HODI collaborated with fellow GlobalGiving partner Seed Programs International on famine relief. Can you talk about how you worked together? How do drought resistant seeds and gardens play into local resilience to prevent devastation from future droughts?

A: Seed Programs International trained us on drought resistance, saving water, and planting kitchen gardens. Together, we’ve been training families in villages how to do kitchen gardens. We work with the meteorological department so families know when it’s going to rain so they can plan to save water for when there is no rain. We received a joint grant from GlobalGiving’s Africa Drought and Famine Fund to work on this project with Seed Programs International.

Q: Part of HODI’s work involves community meetings to determine priorities and educate people on drought preparedness. What have you learned by facilitating those meetings?

A: I think the key thing is that I don’t have the answers; they do. The problem with big organizations is that a lot of the time they think the communities don’t know the answers. But they do know the solutions to their own problems. There is a lot of traditional knowledge; they have survived so many droughts before. With this community engagement process, it gives them a chance to solve their own problems. They have the skills, and all these talents, and until we tap into that, and make it active, it doesn’t actually work out well. How do we activate this knowledge? How do we activate these resources?

I don’t want HODI to run in front of the community. I want the community to lead it, and we will push from the back.

Q: What are some advantages that local organizations like HODI have in handling drought, as opposed to larger international NGOs?

A: We don’t fly in and fly out. We are there with the community. It’s high time we invested in the local organizations. If not now, when? For international organizations, it’s always about crisis. For me, it’s not about crisis. It’s about building resilience together. We’re there day in, day out, for a life. I have nowhere to run to when there’s a crisis. It isn’t a three month job; I’m there with the community forever.

Q: There’s a lot going on in the world right now — hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, famine — it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But at GlobalGiving, we know how powerful individual donations can be. How are donations making a difference for drought relief in northern Kenya?

A: Today, I was sitting and approving the cash grants that went directly to families. As a mother, I know what that means. They will have 3,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $30 USD) which will last them a full month. There is nothing more powerful than knowing your money went directly to the families. As I’m sitting here now, 80 families that were supported with the grant have changed lives. They didn’t have anything to feed their children, they had no water, but they each received a water tank and 3,000 shillings. Just a dollar a day makes a huge difference and gives a mother the power to decide how she can spend her money.

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Featured Photo: Build a Peace Field for 600 Children in Kenya by Horn of Africa Development Initiative

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