Up and out of poverty

BOMA is a non-profit organization that provides skill training and seed capital to Africa's poorest women. Colson helps the women establish small businesses that provide them with incomes - a first step that helps improve their lives and the lives of their families.

As an example, when visiting BOMA's "customers" in the remote village of Kirkuum, Kenya, Colson can be found sitting under the community's thorn tree - a kind of "town square" gathering place. There she discusses life and personal woes, as well as small business and personal savings ideas with BOMA's women entrepreneurs. Kirkuum's women have led lives barely clear of the Stone Age. Their lives as livestock tenders are at an end as drought in the region has destroyed old lifestyles. Small businesses may include the making and distribution of locally made products as well as other items.

It's clear that villagers love Colson. Men and women call her Mamma Rungu, a nickname of endearment and respect; the term means "Mother with a Big Stick."

Colson likes to carry a long marungu, a native wooden hunting club that closely resembles an Iroquois war club.

"I got my nickname because the villagers think I'm pretty tough," she said. "Women aren't supposed have these weapons."

In the semiarid lawless backcountry of Kenya's Great Rift Valley - where armed and violent Somali bandits and rustlers roam with impunity - you may need more than a marungu. That's why Colson is always accompanied by observant trail scouts and armed security guards.

"Our guards carry AK-47 automatic rifles," she said. "I am also trained to shoot one, if need be. And yes, we've been shot at by bandits with machine guns."

So why would a middle-aged woman choose to put herself in harm's way in a Third World country?

"It's about social justice," she said. "I was invited to Kenya by a close friend, and a member of Parliament, Joseph Lekuton. I met Joseph through my safari business. When Joseph said to me, 'Come I need your help,' how could I say no? Little did I know it would turn into my life's work.

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