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The “Forgotten People” of Northern Kenya

The Turkana people call themselves “Emuriakin”, the forgotten people. This is understandable given the fact that the government’s attention towards this region was drawn off when the borders of southern Sudan were opened and the money left, together with the NGOs. All plans to develop the area were put on hold indefinitely, and Lokichoggio (the outermost Kenyan town, on the border with Sudan) became a town of derelict and abandoned buildings and people without hope.

When a Swedish pilot and his wife arrived in Lokichoggio in 2008 to become managers of MAF Kenya’s northern base, they immediately saw the need for education. The Turkana are mainly nomads who derive their livelihood by herding indigenous cattle. With help from their Swedish network they bought land and started a school. Out of that, other projects evolved and today the mission has a primary school with 600 students, a feeding programme for 100 poor families, village evangelization, and small businesses which include a chicken farm, a tailoring shop, a bakery, and a jewelry workshop. Most of the businesses are run by a women’s group called ANA that helps women to get a livelihood. All in all, more than 50 people are employed and many more depend on the mission.

In 2015, MAF’s base in Lokichoggio was closed. The Swedish pilot and his wife had reached an age where they could have retired and returned to their home in Sweden. However, they could not bear to see the people in Lokichoggio once again be forgotten. A Swedish organization called Children’s Mission took over the administrative responsibility, knowing that it was vital that local Turkana leaders would eventually succeed the founders. In the meantime, a Danish couple who were working with MAF South Sudan, were asked (and agreed) to move to Lokichoggio to take over as Mission Leaders from October 2019.

MAF Sweden, who were once indirectly involved in supporting the Swedish MAF couple, are still eager to help the extensive programme. Recently, MAF Sweden made a project proposal to the Swedish Mission Council (SMC) to assess whether the skillsets of the local Turkana management team, as well as those involved in the small businesses, could be developed through education that would eventually enable and empower them to manage without the presence of Scandinavian missionaries.

Some of the education would either take place in Nairobi or teachers would come to Lokichoggio, and the project would therefore also involve the services of MAF Kenya and MAF South Sudan, whose shuttle flights from Nairobi and Juba meet and exchange passengers in Lokichoggio every Monday and Friday.

SMC granted money for the assessment of the educational level and potential of the mission’s management team, and MAF Sweden sent a team from Sweden and Kenya on MAF’s regular flight to Lokichoggio from Nairobi. 

An assessment report has been presented to SMC and the next phase is to make a proposal to the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) to educate and train the local Turkana people of Lokichoggio to do business and develop their community without the help of Mzungos (white people).