Founded in 1990 by Rebecca Lolosoli, a Samburu woman, the village is a refuge for survivors of domestic violence or other traumas. The village is a woman only, a large part of the members are spacing forced marriages or the threat of FGM. Located near the Archer’s post in the Samburu National Reserve, the village is an all-female matriarch village. All the women wear traditional attire, and the village is built out of Manyatta huts which are built using bamboo, cow dung, and twigs.
The founder was beaten up when she dared to speak about women’s rights in her hometown. She was told the beating was to remind her and other women of their place in society. Most of the first members that formed the Umoja Women’s Village are all from surrounding isolated Samburu villages – all of them faced similar beatings like Rebecca, which led them to Umoja.
Since it started many women and girls have heard of the place of refugees. They make their way there to live without the constant threat of male violence. Along with learning a new trade to support themselves. And also how to raise their children with different values than the surrounding society. Today we find the village to be a sanctuary for over 50 women and 200 children, with the numbers growing every day.
Samburu men are completely banned from entering the village. The village supports itself by selling artifacts and jewelry that they create. Mostly the sales are made to tourists who travel over six hours from Nairobi to visit the women sanctuary. The village also runs one of the only primary schools in the area.
Another amazing thing is that they operate as a collective. All livestock is collectively owned, and all the profits made from their crafts enter a group savings system. This allows the village to operate and pay for any medical bills for members if required. There is a great sense of companionship and community, sharing of food and chores happens daily. And despite the great dangers of the region such as hyenas or other wild animals, along with the threat of men from neighboring villages rebelling the community has remained strong and resilient. Quite an extraordinary development, one that brings hope to humanity everywhere.