Visiting the Umoja Women’s Village in Kenya

One of the highlights of my first trip to Africa, was a visit to the Umoja Women’s Village in Kenya. A village on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River in Samburu National Reserve, around 380km from Nairobi. The village is inhabited by members of the Samburu tribe, who are closely related to the Masaai. What’s unusual about this village, is that it is only made up of women and some children who are growing up in the village.

Umoja Women's Village

I heard the women coming before I could see them. They were clapping and singing, their wonderful African voices working in perfect harmony. Growing louder as they approached, I was mesmerised by their colourful robes, beaded necklaces and headwear.

Umoja Women's Village

The women performed a number of ritual songs and dances for us to see, thrusting their chest and shoulders forwards, which causing their necklaces to jump up and down as if they had a life of their own. They sang a song called ‘My Cow is Better Than Your Cow’ and a more serious song called ‘The Vagina Song’ where the women celebrated their bodies and their freedom.

Umoja Women's Village  Umoja Women's Village

The singing and dancing is very fun to watch, but beneath the surface there are serious connotations.  Samburu women have endured a lot through the years – with little access to education, Female Genital Mutilation, forced marriages (in some cases to MUCH older men, and men with HIV) and regular beatings.

Umoja Women's Village

The village was started by a Samburu woman called Rebecca Lolosoli in the early 1990’s as a safe haven for the women who have had (or were about to) have the above practices forced upon them. Umoja actually means ‘unity’ in Swahili. The women work as a cooperative, selling their jewellery to passing tourists. They have since inspired other women to do the same.

Umoja Women's Village

The women showed us how they maintain their traditional mud houses, by smearing  wet cow and elephant dung onto the outside walls. The huts were surprisingly cool inside and offered a wonderful respite from the dusty heat outside.

Umoja Women's Village  Umjoa Women's Village

We stayed at the campsite which is adjacent to the village which is also owned by Umoja. The campsite is a perfect base for visiting the village as well as taking a game drive in the Samburu National Reserve. The camp has bar and restaurant facilities and you can also experience a traditional campfire dinner with more singing and dancing. The Umoja Camp is great if you are on a budget, however there are plenty of lodges in the area if you would like to stay elsewhere and a number of tour operators that can offer safaris.

Umoja Women's Village

Please visit their website here for more information, booking or if you’d like to support them.

Umoja Women's Village

Essential Info:

  • Samburu National Reserve is around 5/6 hours from Nairobi by road.
  • I did my trip as part of an overland trip with Absolute Africa. They offer tours of various lengths, from 1 week – 11 weeks. All fees were included in the overall price of the tour. We stayed at the Umoja Campsite, adjacent to the village.
  • Some safaris tours to Samburu National Park will include a trip to the village.
  • If you have your own transport, you could head to the village yourself.
  • If you are travelling by public transport, I suggest you head to the town of Isiolo, and arrange for your camp or lodge to pick you up from there, or they should be able to help you organise a taxi. Most camps and lodges in the area can organise trips to the village for you.
  • Village entry is $10 pp (for Kenyan residents) and $20 pp (for non residents).
  • The info regarding accommodation has disappeared from their website, but you can contact them via the website as above. However the prices were as below.
  • Village entry is $10 pp (for Kenyan residents) and $20 pp (for non residents).
  • Huts Accommodation $20 pp/pn – $38 pp/pn (dependant on huts or chalets).
  • Camping Fee $10 pp/pn.
  • Museum Entry Fee $5 pp

* All prices correct at the time of writing (August 2013).

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Thomas
    August 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    My wife and I have yet to visit Africa together and she is from Ethiopia. These women are amazing and I really like the photo of the two talking together and seemingly in deep thought. What happens with all of the men though from the tribe?

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      Hey Thomas,

      Thanks for your comment! These women are amazing! I always wonder what they are chatting about. Looks serious, but it could have been about anything!

      What I should have explained, is that all these women are not from the same village originally. So they are all from the Samburu Tribe, but different villages and women from that tribe come here as a kind of ‘refuge’ I guess, although I wouldn’t call it that! Hope that makes sense!

      • Reply
        Thomas
        August 9, 2013 at 1:54 pm

        Oh okay thanks for clarifying. Are there any little boys I would think some of them had kids? If so do they make them leave after a certain age?

        • Reply
          Helen
          August 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm

          There were a few little boys actually. I visited the pre school there. I doubt they’d make them leave, I suppose they bring them up to think of women in a different way than perhaps historically men of the tribe did before. I’ll see if I can find out!

  • Reply
    Helen
    August 12, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Hi Thomas,

    I checked and they don’t make them leave as long as the sons are respectful to the women of the village. In fact some of the boys who have grown older have protected the women from other men. I assume some of the sons born there will go on to marry women from that village too – except they’ve been brought up with a totally different mindset to the one the men of the tribe traditionally have.

  • Reply
    TammyOnTheMove
    August 13, 2013 at 9:19 am

    I love it that the women managed to empower themselves after having gone through so much. It is so important for women like that to have a safe haven. What a great project!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted…The best camera for travel: DSLR, Point & Shoot or iPhone?My Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 13, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      Hi Tammy!

      Thanks for stopping by! These women are just incredible and brave. Rebecca is an inspiration, she’s the Samburu lady who started it all! 🙂

      Helen

  • Reply
    Meruschka
    August 14, 2013 at 4:21 am

    Hi Helen
    Just found your blog and enjoying African travel posts. Please check out the #Afritravel hashtag on twitter and feel free to use it to share your African travel related content. http://www.mzansigirl.com/an-african-travel-movement-afritravel/
    Meruschka 
    Meruschka recently posted…Creating an African Travel blogger CommunityMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 14, 2013 at 7:46 am

      Hey Meruschka,

      I saw the hashtag yesterday! I will definitely be using it!

      Look forward to speaking with you some more!

      Helen

  • Reply
    Sherry
    January 22, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Last week I visited with Rebecca and the ladies of Umoja. They are a fabulous group of women. Unfortunately, they are still being harassed by the men who are currently encroaching on Rebecca’s land by pulling out the post marking boundaries, and building upon their land… essentially stealing it. The greatest need for these women right now is to build a secure fence. Please help them raise the funds to build and secure their future.

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 22, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      That’s so sad to hear! I’ve contacted Umoja to see what I can help with.

      Thank you!

  • Reply
    Angela Woods
    April 3, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    I am so excited about this project and look foreword to working with these ladies…

    • Reply
      Helen
      April 3, 2014 at 9:52 pm

      Great! What are you going to do there? It’s a great thing they are doing! Such brave, wonderful women.

  • Reply
    Elena
    June 5, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    The ladies look just gorgeous! And how amazing their accessories are! And thanks a lot for the price breakdown! Adding them to my travel planner and hope I can finally make it to Africa next year!

    • Reply
      Helen
      June 8, 2014 at 8:22 pm

      They’re beautiful aren’t they? They make all the beaded stuff themselves, and you can buy much of it there! Definitely go if you get the chance! It’s a great experience!

  • Reply
    Eveline
    June 21, 2014 at 7:59 am

    we kindly need a booking on date 30-1 ,two nights one double and one single ,
    kindly this is my no 0728718841 Eve

    • Reply
      Helen
      June 21, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Hi Eveline, You’ll need to book direct with the camp.

      Hope you have a great time!

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