New Course commits to work with women in 500 ultra-poor households in the heart of the Tsavo-Chyulu-Amboseli ecosystem (Ultra-poor households are defined here as households that survive on less than .85/per day and are plagued by multiple facets of poverty, such as illiteracy, high health care costs, and limited economic opportunities). New Course will distribute Luci solar lights, a small, affordable, and waterproof lantern that generates light for an entire room. These lights will generate immediate benefits for women and children in the community, such as a reduction in burns and indoor air pollution, potential for increased household productivity and increased household savings.
New Course is proud to partner with Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT) and MPOWERD to explore, test, and scale models of behavior change with regard to health care, environmental stewardship, and sustainable life choices of women living in ecologically vulnerable habitats in Kenya.
New Course and its partners will work specifically with women to trigger a series of decisions that lead to better health, improved environmental conditions, and economic gains for their families. They will explore different incentive structures and educational needs within households to determine which methodologies will drive behavior change so that households have the means, the information, and the motivation to include clean energy purchases as a foundation for change. Decisions regarding cooking fuel, water filtration, hygiene, nutrition, and small business opportunities will be targeted.
New Course and its partners will work with women in Maasai communities to identify their priorities and their goals for themselves, their families, and their communities. The organization will then use the distribution of Luci lights as a basis for moving in the direction of achieving those goals.
Three different models of distribution will be tested:
1. Women will receive free lights in aggregate in order to start small businesses and sell the lights.
2. Individual women will receive lights, which will generate household savings. These women will invest their savings with the support of women's networks and/or cooperatives to invest in small businesses, such as water distribution centers, grass-seed banks, beading cooperatives, etc.
3. Women will receive lights on an individual basis and be incentivized to use their savings to obtain sustainable and healthy household solutions. A variety of incentive programs, such as community recognition, financial remuneration, and education opportunities, among others, will be explored.
In all cases of distribution, women will receive the training and skills necessary to move through the process. For example, women who opt to start small businesses will be provided training and skills as necessary. Women who start light distribution companies will be provided training on green entrepreneurship. Finally, women will be able to explore options for financing and purchasing additional sustainable and healthy solutions for cooking, obtaining clean water, and improved family healthcare among other household stressors. All households will also receive training on environmental management and sustainability.
The Tsavo-Chyulu-Amboseli Parks ecosystem in Kenya is recognized for its high biodiversity, including the African lion, African elephant, and the critically endangered black rhinoceros. The parks are also important to the national economy because of the tourism revenues they attract, and to the millions of Kenyans who depend on the watershed for fresh water. The national parks lie within a human-dominated landscape, rendering the overall health of this ecosystem reliant on the Maasai, who own land within and between the parks.
These communities are unique because the well-being of these villagers is tied directly to the well-being of ecosystems and animals in the region. Importantly, when the men and women of the Maasai villages are able to provide for their children, their families, and their communities, they are extraordinary environmental stewards. However, when poverty overwhelms communities, the Maasai make desperate choices, including engaging in poaching and unsustainable decisions regarding natural resource use, such as poor water management, charcoal production, and overgrazing of rangelands. For example, the use of biomass as a fuel for lighting and cooking is exceedingly unhealthy, expensive, and it results in significant ecosystem degradation. This untenable pattern of resource use further drives despair and a spiral into extreme poverty emerges. It is possible to reverse or prevent this spiral and help households fight their way to stability, resiliency, and sustainability.
The Maasai living in the Tsavo-Chyulu-Amboseli are a historically nomadic people. However, changing climate conditions, shifting cultural norms, and evolving economic opportunities have all contributed to a more sedentary lifestyle. While the Maasai still rely on livestock production as their main source of income and sustenance, in recent years, the productivity of the rangelands has worsened. Women and children in these communities suffer the brunt of rapidly emerging poverty, illness, and lack of opportunity.
As women have come together to determine the issues that are most impacting their lives, they have identified priorities such as ending FGM, gaining financial and literacy skills, and improving the health of children primarily by reducing diarrhea. Expertise, best-practices, and financial support to extend the program into these topic areas are warmly welcome.