In 1924 people from 8 tribes were brought together in the centre of a 160,000 acre (250 sq miles) game reserve. They had been brought there to care for the area and tend the animals. Over the next 80 years the land changed ownership several times, the most recent being in 2004. The new owner no longer wanted these people (now numbering several thousand) on his land and began to take steps to remove them. But they had no other home – several generations had been born and raised there!
At about this time Martin Mithega, a senior lawyer in Meru, became a Christian in Edward Buria’s church. Having previously had no time for the poor (as they could not pay substantial fees) he now felt he wanted to help them with free legal advice, so he set up a new practice through VOLASE (Volunteers for Legal Aid Service), a NGO.
Martin heard about the group in Manyangalo and over a period of several months obtained tenure for them of the area of land on which they were living. They now have plots of their own with individual title deeds.
Ignorance through isolation
It was in 2004 that I was first taken to visit these forgotten people. Some did not even know that Kenya had become independent although that had happened in 1963! Most of them didn’t have the National Identity Cards to prove they were Kenyans and so could not exercise their democratic rights such as voting.
The conditions were very basic: one toilet for several thousand people (so most practiced the ‘bush culture’), very poor accommodation that was cramped and smoke-filled from cooking, life that was in survival mode, and so on.
Since then there has been a remarkable transformation and it was a joy to visit once again recently to see what an impact the love and care of the Christian community has brought. They are now arising as a people of dignity with their own school, shops, some newly built houses (albeit still fairly basic but improving) – even their own football team called Manyagash Football Club with a strip donated by Edward and his church!
They have also just turned on the taps of a major water project which takes water to all parts of the community. With great foresight Edward has arranged for a large gravity-fed water tank to be erected and for trunk pipe-work to be laid, spreading out across the area to toilets, showers and washing areas. It is hoped there will even be sufficient for irrigation for the crops.
The area is very fertile and there is now an abundance of vegetables and cereals being grown, sufficient to feed the community with some spare for market, thus yielding income to raise the economic level. It is hoped shortly to introduce Foundations for Farming into the community through the church. In due course this will accelerate income generation, thus improving the overall economy.
But there needs to be wisdom as they move forward. Development is good, but it brings its own challenges such as HIV/AIDS and crime, which they had previously avoided.
A remarkable story
Perhaps the most remarkable part of this story is the harmony that exists between these different tribal groups. Where there has been serious tension in other parts of Kenya following the elections of December 2007, with many still displaced following the inter-tribal conflict, here, in Manyangalo, there is peace and harmony. They speak one another’s languages and there has been harmonious inter-marriage among these tribal groups. They had never previously reported any crime because they all knew they had their common enemies to fight, which were poverty, disease, ignorance and their oppressors. They had had no access to medical facilities, so were using herbs and products from trees. This is a fascinating sociological case study!
There is fresh hope amongst these forgotten people and a new generation is emerging to the glory of God. What a testimony of God’s love and grace expressed through the sacrificial love of Edward and his team!