East Africa Drought Crisis

by ActionAid International USA
Feb 27, 2012

A woman with five goats and a mission

Mary Kalhelan
Mary Kalhelan

The rivers are flowing and the grass is finally green in Kongelei, the pastoralist community in North Western Kenya. Here, I mostly meet women and children, as many men have left the villages in search for green pasture.

After a long dry spell, it started raining in October and the families are starting to rebuild their day-to-day life as it used to be. Fifty of the families have received goats from ActionAid. Many of the goats are now in the hands of women trying to make ends meet.

Meeting some of the women was a reminder, that it is a tremendous task for farmers in Eastern Africa to adapt to climate change, in the aftermath of yet another failure in Durban for the worlds Governments to commit to serious reductions in the CO2 emissions  

Women in Kongelai do not believe in binding agreements anyway. Many of their husbands have abandoned their families – whether because of ill fate or simply because they gave up providing for their families.   

“I was married, but my husband got AIDS and died. Now our four children are my responsibility.”

35 year-old Mary Kalhelan told me when I visited the area to see, if the recent rains have made life easier for the families.

 “The rain used to come regularly, but now it can stay away for many months, before we suddenly get too much.  Nothing is certain anymore,” she elaborated.

In December, some areas in North Western Kenya suddenly received so much rain, that the newly planted seeds were flushed off the fields.

The cradle of humankind is said to be somewhere in Africa. People have lived here for thousands of generations. However, the biggest concerns for Mary are no more than one generation old; manmade climate change and HIV did not exist when she was born.

For Mary, providing for her family has been a day-to-day struggle in recent months. With the five goats she received from ActionAid, she feels that her immediate worries have disappeared.

I received five goats from ActionAid that I now keep on a small piece of land. With five goats, I can get enough milk for my children and I. However, the big change will happen when we succeed in breeding more goats. That will change our life status.

Mary, who also works at a market, explains.

Every morning, she walks a couple of hours to buy vegetables for 100 shillings (0.8 EUR) from small farmers along a river. When I met her in a stall in a small town, she had sold half of them for 110 shillings.  

Mary has HIV but with four children, a market stall and five goats, that is not her biggest concern any more. When she realised she was HIV positive, she considered it a death sentence. Now it is just one of several concerns in the back of her head.

ActionAid has trained me in how to live a normal life with HIV. I and everybody else had many prejudices about HIV. Now I get my medicine every day and I feel much better

Overall, her life has improved vastly in recent months.

“When it was very dry, a lot of livestock died and there was not many crops on the farms. At that time, we were starving in our family and it was a good day if we got just one solid meal. These days it is a bad day, if we only get one solid meal. On top of that, the goat milk makes my children strong. Things have gotten way better,” she explains.

Five goats that made a difference
Five goats that made a difference

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Organization Information

ActionAid International USA

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.actionaidusa.org
Project Leader:
Amy Leichtman
Program Manager
Washington, DC United States

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