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The BOMA Story


A woman by the name of Kathleen Colson has been leading trips to Kenya for more than 25 years.  President of her own company, African Safari Planners, Colson’s ties to the country run deep.  In 2005, M.P. Joseph Lekuton asked Colson, a long-time friend, to accompany him on a trip to Northern Kenya.  The pastoral homelands in this part of Kenya have been devastated by severe and recurring drought, the result of climate change.  Lekuton knew that once Colson had seen the irreparable harm herself, she’d be motivated to act.

Lekuton was right.  For the next two years, Kathleen returned time and again to Laisamis District in Northern Kenya, with Lekuton’s aide Kura Omar acting as her guide and translator.  His was important work, because Colson was there to listen.  In countless villages, she learned about challenges the women faced when their husbands took livestock herds farther and farther away, looking for places to graze.  She heard their suggestions, and about previously tried programs that had failed.  The keys to success, she learned, were earning a sustainable income, gaining new skills, and adapting to a shifting culture.  The BOMA project was born.

Omar and Colson decided, after conducting extensive research, that microfinance offered the most promise to the women of Laisamis District.  Kathleen’s first task was attracting a micro-lending partner to the district.  There were no takers: Northern Kenya was deemed too poor, too remote, too undeveloped and too dangerous.  Undeterred, she then approached successful grants-based model organizations, and formed a partnership with Village Enterprise, whose activities were centered in Uganda, Tanzania, and Western Kenya. 

In late 2008, the Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP) became a reality.  Kura Omar joined BOMA then as founding partner and director of operations in Kenya, a position he still holds.  Yesterday, he and Kathleen Colson were honored by the United Nations’ Momentum for Change initiative as representatives of one of 17 “Lighthouse Activities” responding to global climate change.  BOMA is recognized specifically for its work for and by women.

How does the BOMA project work?  Through financial assistance to and mentoring of women.  The result is almost 1,700 businesses; by giving cash grants to groups of up to three women, and by providing them with training and mentoring for up to two years, “these women literally have gone from beggars to lenders,” says Colson.  They are able to form savings associations for the advancement of their own businesses and communities. 

The award is particularly sweet since it may lead to more funding for BOMA’s work.  In addition to this most recent recognition, Colson is also the recipient of one of eight Rainer Arnhold fellowships, given to people working on “tough problems in tough places.”  The fellowship will endow Colson with two years of support, training and mentoring.  This includes participation in a retreat for fellows, and access to more funding.



With thanks to the Rutland Herald and bomaproject.org.

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