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Samburu...What is in a name?

Samburu is a semi-arid area located in the northern part of Kenya, in the banks of the Ewaso Ngiro River in the remote regions of the North Kenya highlands. Samburu, like the name Sahara, sounds like a mystery. The name ‘Samburu’ is of Maasai origin and is derived from the word ‘Samburr’ which is a leather bag used by the Samburu people to carry a variety of things. The Samburu are part of the Maa speaking people as are the Maasai. The Samburu men wear a dress which is often white or red wrapped around their waist and adorn necklaces, bracelets and anklets like the Maasai. The Moran “warriors” wear their hair in long braids which they shave off when they become elders. Women wear two pieces of cloth one piece wrapped around the waist the second wrapped over the chest. Young unmarried women do not even care to cover the upper chest area and bares their breasts while within their compounds which I found very distracting. Women keep their hair shaved and wear numerous necklaces and bracelets.

Samburu is one of the most beautiful natural places I have ever seen. The air is so pure, the serenity is so surreal, the desert breeze just caresses your skin, the sounds of the savanna, the animals roaming nearby, makes it so enchanting that you easily forget there is anything that exists beyond the borders of these communities. The Samburu people are beautiful. The men slender and shiny, and their bodies very well defined in a place where the word gym is unheard of. They have to be in shape, they compete with the lions and other wild animals for survival. Their women with their hair shaved clean had an intentional gap between their front teeth, their breasts bare and pointed sharply outwards. These women are extremely beautiful to a point of being exotic. You have to love and admire the Samburu people ad their culture. In a world revolving around modern technology every single day; like the Maasai, the Samburu people have someone managed to maintain their beautiful culture along the decades and have refused to embrace technology. They wear traditional clothes, eat their traditional foods mainly made of meat, fresh animal blood and milk. They stand straight and tall under the hot African heat, resilient in their struggles for survival, and content in their rich culture and traditions. This is the home of the three big cats; the lion, cheetah and leopard.

Samburu is inhabited by largely transient, nomadic pastoralists who live in extreme poverty relying on goats, sheep, cattle and camel ownership for their livelihood. Their remote communities have little or no access to health care due to road access where most Samburu people depend on Camel caravans as a mode of transport. Since the Samburu people depend on livestock, they are extremely vulnerable to seasonal variation and drought. There lives are largely shaped by the search for water and grazing land for their animals. The conditions are harsh and inhospitable, with poor road infrastructure, making travel between urban centres and outlying areas extremely difficult. Due to their severe isolation, the population of this region has received minimal access to health care and the majority of them are uneducated.

The Samburu people have no access to clean water and rely on seasonal rivers and rainfalls. The lack of clean water exposes them to waterborne communicable diseases such as Typhoid and Cholera. Since they live in the wilderness, they are prone to snake bites which are sometimes the cause of morbidity and mortality. There is no clinic in close proximity and by the time the victim is transported by camel to the hospital hundreds of miles away, it is sometimes too late. Other major problems are HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis, and fungal skin infections. The majority of the locals here have never been to a doctor due to access, distance or cost; all real barriers to health access. They now rely on non profit organizations that frequently schedule free medical camps in the areas as the only chance for their medical needs to be addressed.

The most richest of their culture is their dance. The Samburu people loves to welcome visitors in the area through rich dances where women create repetitive upper bodies movements by gyrating their chests area (breasts), up and down in a rhythmic and exotic movement. The men have a unique dance where they jump up and down in turns or in unison. How high can you jump? Their dances are beautiful to watch and they celebrate all the rites of passage with dance.

Medical Missions Kenya and Hunger Relief volunteers will be in Samburu from Dec 7-10th to provide free medical screenings in collaboration with a local NGO organization called MAA Health Care Intiatives. We are taking a group of twelve volunteers on the ground in Samburu. Samburu is currently in crisis of hunger due to prolonged drought and lack of rainfall. Children under five years, pregnant women and the elderly bear the brunt of food insecurity as devastating drought depletes resources in the region. Please help save the Samburu people. Donate today or join us as we travel to Samburu to provide hunger relief and free medical services.

Notes by Millicent Mucheru

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