Rebecca Lolosoli

Survivor of violence finds a new "unity"

Rebecca Lolosoli is the matriarch of the Umoja Women's Village and an advocate for women's rights. Growing up as a member of the Samburu tribe, Lolosoli attended primary school and then nursing school but dropped out early on due to lack of money to pay the fees.

Rebecca Lolosoli married at the age of 18. She later started her own business selling goods and began speaking up about helping women who were victims of rape by British soldiers training nearby her home. For doing those things, neighborhood men came and beat her. When her husband did not protest the beatings, she left him.

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Founder and Matriarch of Umoja Women's Village Rebecca Lolosoli

Photo by David Smoler

Lolosoli, along with several other women who are also survivors of violence, established the women's village of Umoja, which means “unity” in Swahili. To sustain themselves, they sell beadwork and open their village as a tourist attraction. With the money they earned, they built a school for their children and those in surrounding villages, and eventually purchased the land they live on.

Lolosoli has been repeatedly elected as chairperson of the village and is also chair of her local chapter of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organization (MYWO), a non-profit, volunteer group working to improve the lives of women and youth in Kenya. Lolosoli received the Global Leadership Award from Vital Voices in 2010. She continues to fight for a woman's right to make decisions, own land and run a business, and she works tirelessly to end harmful and unsafe cultural practices and violence against women.

Because of drought in the area, Lolosoli and her village have worked to decrease their reliance on cattle, which die or are stolen in times of drought. They now have a chicken coop, and the women sell the eggs at a local market – providing both income and protein to the women and children in the village.

Lolosoli plans to run for local office and will be the first Samburu woman ever to do so.

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