Among the Endorois sub-tribe of the larger Kalenjin community, the role of constructing houses has traditionally been a preserve of women as it has been it is amongst a majority of Kenyan pastoral communities.
For the Endorois women home building, has not only been a traditional duty, but also a source of income and prestige.
“Being a woman house builder in our community earns us respect because not all women can do it,” says 48-year-old Carolyne Chebii, who has been building traditional homes for the last 28 years.
To the Endorois community in Tiaty constituency of Baringo county, traditional grass thatched houses are not only a heritage but also a shield to the soaring temperatures that are common in the region that is classified as semi-arid.
36-year-old Anne Cheplimo has been building houses since she was 12 years old after being married off by her parents.
“I got married at a tender age and was introduced to traditional house construction by my mother in-law,” she says.
Anne and fellow Endorois women builders are normally contracted to carry out house construction and repairs within the community at a fee.
“We always work in groups because that makes work easier. The construction of a single small house can fetch as much as Sh 5,000,” Cheplimo adds.
Linet Chepsire chairs a group of 35 female house builders in Mochongoi village. She says that most of her members have no job because the grass they use for roofing houses is no longer available.
“The grass we use for roofing is becoming scarce and we are forced to source from as far as Nyandarua and Nakuru and because we cannot afford resources for that we have no option than to look for something else to do,” Chepsire narrates.
“The little money we used to make has also gone and this means little food for our families” she adds.
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According to Chepsire, the grass grows around and near wetlands like swamps and water catchment areas which are rapidly drying up due to the prolonged drought season.
“Over the past ten years, we have witnessed three swamps dry up in our area and when the swamp disappears, the grass cannot survive and this has affected us directly,” she says.
47-year-old Nancy Chebet, notes that most of her clients have shifted to constructing houses roofed with corrugated iron sheets in place of the scarce grass.
“I’m not an expert in roofing houses using iron sheets and this has left me jobless ,”says Chebet.
Jane Sei, a single mother of three, says the disappearance of the roofing grass has shut down her only source of income hence forcing her children to stay at home due to lack of school fees.
“Until I get another source of income, they will just stay at home,” Sei says.
Jeremiah Lokorio, an Endorois community elder says the swamps have been drying naturally and not because of human related activity.
“You can see that there is no human settlement near the swamps. The water has been reducing for the past ten years and even rivers across this region are suffering the same fate,”Lokorio says.
Climate change and environment expert Koimburi Jackson links the drying of swamps and the disappearance of grass to changing climatic conditions.
“The area is majorly arid and changing weather patterns that come with prolonged dry spells is only making things worse. The swamps drying could be because of the excessive heat in the region,” says Koimburi.
Koimburi explains that unusually prolonged dry seasons have led to extreme temperatures that result in high evaporation, reducing surface water, which he says has led to the drying of soil and vegetation.
“The soils are too hot and are struggling to hold enough water to sustain growth of vegetation,” Koimburi explains.
Baringo county executive committee member in charge of environment and natural resources Richard Naaman Tamar acknowledges the problem of wetlands like swamps drying up and its effects on women.
Tamar also blames climate change for the mess.
“The problem of swamps drying up is climate change related and it has not only affected the economic standing of female house builders but has also contributed to increased gender-based violence cases,” he said.
“When these women lose their source of small income, they become susceptible to attacks from their husbands and this is a problem that is real,” he adds.
Tamar says that they have started a project of rehabilitating and protecting wetlands such as swamps across the county to try and fix the situation.
He says they will partner with other agencies like NEMA to realize that goal.
Baringo county executive in charge of gender says they are also working with female home builders to train them on alternative income generating activities like poultry farming.
They will also be trained in masonry, plumbing, modern roofing and plastering, skills that will enable them to venture into modern home construction.
“All our women builders are willing to learn, but the challenge has always been resources,” says Linet Chepsire, chairperson of the group.
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