Ol Malo


The Samburu are a spectacular warrior tribe, steeped in ancient wisdom and traditions that have helped them to survive and flourish in their harsh, beautiful environment. But during the drought the nomadic Samburu lost 80 per cent of their cattle, and with it their primary source of livelihood and pride. During a time like this the entire tribe suffers, but women and children suffer the most. The men move with their cattle to try and find grazing, and the women and children remain behind in their homesteads. A mother will sometimes be left with up to 20 children to look after, with little food, water or medical resources. All progressively become malnourished and sick.

Julia Francombe was born and brought up in the Laikipia area, a vast tract of land bordering Samburuland in Northern Kenya. Having completed an arts course and a BA Hons degree at Oxford Brookes University in England, Julia returned home to visit and help her family, who own the Ol Malo Lodge - an eco-lodge situated on what was an overgrazed cattle ranch in the Muridjo area. The 3,000 acre holding has been transformed into a prime and beautiful conservation site implementing low-impact nature tourism and maintaining species and habitats through conservation.

It was during this time that Julia came face to face with the effects of the drought. She decided she couldn’t sit back and watch, and put to good use her education in art, craft and business.

  • She started the women beading – making traditional Samburu bracelets and anything that she could sell to help pay for food.
  • She dug out her old college art materials and brought in children to paint pictures. These were then sold to pay for food and medicine. To start with there were around 12 children in the programme.
  • She brought in a mobile health clinic to deal with medical issues brought upon by the drought, such as malnutrition, scabies, eye problems and TB.
  • She started exchanging traditional beads for food with the Samburu women. Within a week word had spread through the bush telegraph, and women were walking 5-6 days to join this ‘beads for food’ programme.

An extract from Julia’s diary at this time makes clear what it is about Samburuland and the Samburu people that inspire her:

With the chill of the early morning, before the birds are singing and the sun has risen above the skyline, the sound of boys singing. Circular shapes – from the thorny outer ring of the homestead to the houses and the inner manyatta for the cows, calves, goats and sheep. Right in the middle is this bright round fire; children chatter; warmth from the open fire in the centre; glowing red blankets from the elders around the fire. Smoke from the houses and the chatter of children running to greet me – bare feet despite the cold. Mothers very conscious of me in the cold, beckon me into their houses; as their guest you are a priority. Click to more

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