By Haley Beham
The Twala Cultural Manyatta is located in the small village of Il Poloi in the Laikipia region of Kenya. Founded by Rosemary Nenini, it’s making a huge impact on the lives of other Kenyan women and creating a space for them to come together to celebrate their culture and heritage. Not only that, but it is also educating women and giving them confidence to build strength in their identity and community.
The start of Rosemary’s story is a common one for girls growing up in the rural communities of Kenya. Moving in search of pasture for their livestock is normal practice for the Masai community. Because of that, Rosemary attended multiple schools growing up. But her instability in school wasn’t the only obstacle for her to overcome. Growing up in the Masai community, Rosemary was surrounded by strong patriarchal systems. One of these is the devastating practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). At the age of 10, she underwent FGM and was forced into marriage before she could finish school. Even though FGM in Kenya has been illegal for more than 10 years, the practice still takes place, especially in these remote communities.
While many young girls’ stories stop there, Rosemary’s keeps going. Unlike most girls, she was able to resume her studies (with much disappointment from her in-laws). She even completed her secondary school education. She transformed her experience into a dream to help and empower other women and create a safe place for women to come together. Thus begins the origins of Twala Cultural Manyatta.
Building Community, Advocating for Change
The mission of Twala Cultural Manyatta is “to provide a unique and authentic experience for visitors while fostering respect and understanding of the local environment and culture.” The community project, which started with 60 local women, now has more than 200 women coming together to learn and hone specific life skills to support their families. You will find jewelry made from the colorful Masai beads and locally sourced products available for purchase. Not only that, but FGM has been reduced in the conservancy as women who once had the responsibility to perform the ritual have focused their efforts on projects at the center, including mentoring young girls.
Additionally, Twala Cultural Manyatta advocates for change by encouraging ranching as opposed to moving livestock, which disrupts education for children. What started with a small piece of land has turned into 40 acres that supports various agricultural, cultural, and conservation projects. Within those 40 acres, the group maintains a vegetable garden, where the women learn to cultivate and support a subsistence lifestyle. They also make their kitchen open for women to cook for their own families. One of the organization's newer initiatives for bringing in income is the creation of an aloe plantation. Aloe grows particularly well in the semi-arid environment of Laikipia and has many medicinal purposes. They’ve even started exporting it to the United Kingdom for a major cosmetic company. Their venture is doing so well, they’ve even been able to use some of the dividends to support girls in boarding school.
How to Visit
A visit to Twala Cultural Manyatta is an eye-opening experience where you can truly experience Masai culture. The best way to visit is on a safari in Kenya that includes a stay at Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy. The private safari home sits on 60,000 acres of pristine Kenyan bush and towering kopjes in the shadow of Mt. Kenya. Endangered black rhinos, Grevy’s zebra, elephant, lion, cheetah, and plenteous plains game roam here, as well as wild dog and leopard.
Ol Jogi has supported Twala Cultural Manyatta from its beginning. They built fences to help provide security from elephants and other animals that may wander through the property. They even provided training and security support and donated women’s hygiene products to the residents.
Ol Jogi is also deeply committed to preserving the wilderness it occupies. They employ a team of rangers to roam the land looking for poachers. Not only that, but they also established the Wildlife Rescue Center onsite to care for orphaned and injured animals.
There’s a wealth of activities to participate in on your private safari, including game drives, walks, and off-roading adventures. From Ol Jogi, you can set out on a guided walk amid a troop of baboons and visit Twala Cultural Manyatta with Rosemary, which directly supports the center.
The impact of Rosemary and Twala Cultural Manyatta in Kenya can’t be overemphasized. Local communities have noticed the impact of Twala Cultural Center too. Elders and men have recognized its impact on their communities and now encourage women to get involved. This is a true departure from the normal customs of the region. A place that once alienated and mutilated women has come together to build a sisterhood for local women and change the course of their future for the better. Women are helping women and, in the process, are creating a movement that takes their shared trauma and transforms it into something altogether positive.
PRO TIP: Ask to include private charter flights with Scenic Air to and from Ol Jogi, and enhance that with an incredible flight over Lake Turkana and the Suguta Valley, including a stopover at Reteti Elephant sanctuary for a special, once in a lifetime experience. - Nicole Porto, Designer
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