Magdaline Wambui Mitugo comes from a past full of emptiness and dependency. Now the chair-lady of a vibrant one hundred-member Kamburu Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) Women Group, she talks of their long journey from isolation and insignificance to a present now full of hope and prosperity.
“If there is one thing we can be thankful of ICE for, it is because they salvaged our families and households.” The family unit was dying in Kamburu, threatened by ancient cultures that dictated what chores ‘belonged’ to the menfolk and those that were the preserve of the women. “We managed household affairs in total isolation.
Our husbands never knew what we were doing neither did we know what they were up to – we were like perfect strangers living under the same roof,” explains Magdalene. This affected cohesion in the family and created a rift that impacted on any meaningful development that could take place in Kamburu.
When ICE visited Kamburu, this aspect was glaringly obvious. “We realised before anything else could happen here, we had to mend the prevailing situation”, explains Martin, Programme Manager at ICE. But changing a people’s culture handed down from one generation to another over a long period of time was not going to be that easy as Martin explains, ” We had to identify an entry point that the community would warm up to and use this to get them to gradually realise the value of a man and woman working together in the family unit.”
“We were introduced to the concept of kitchen gardens which suddenly removed us from the dependency syndrome we suffered for long”, explains Magdalene. For the women of Kamburu, the kitchen gardens freed them from a legacy of dependence on their husbands for daily subsistence as Magdalene explains. “With my kitchen garden, I no longer bothered my husband with money to buy food for that day – I could just get it from my garden. The gardens also set the pace for a new culture of healthy eating.
“Since we mainly grow indigenous foods in our gardens, we have gradually stopped relying on bread for breakfast and instead prefer the richly nutritious sweet potatoes, arrow roots and the likes”. Soon the men of Kambura were more frequent in the ‘boma’ than before! “When you don’t pester your husband with small things like money for food, you give him breathing space and a piece of mind. He looks forward to coming home every day and you are always guaranteed of an audience with him,” explains Magdalene with a broad smile settling across her face. This new ‘breathing space’ provided a window of opportunity for couples to discuss other things like joint ownership of wealth and assets in the family and development finally came home to roost at Kamburu.