NASHETU E MAA
Building in Partnership with the Maasai
Since the early 1980s Practical Action East Africa
has been involved in participatory technology
development as a means of tackling the challenge
of securing livelihoods and increasing access to
decent and affordable shelter.
This document tells the story of work in the
district of Kajiado, Kenya which has a largely
Maasai population of approximately 120,000 in an
area of 22,000km2 The Maasai are traditionally a
nomadic people but currently face pressures from
agriculture and the sub-division of land which
have resulted in permanent settlement and
changes in lifestyle.
In 1991 Practical Action East Africa (then known
as ITDG Kenya) received a request to give
technical assistance to project efforts developed
by the Arid and Semi-arid Lands Programme
(ASAL), working in partnership with local women’s
groups in Kajiado. Eleven groups registered with
ASAL had identified housing as a priority issue.
Practical Action East Africa’s role was to give
support in developing appropriate shelter
strategies and new technologies in response to the
changing environment and housing needs.
Traditionally the division of labour between Maasai
women and men meant that women were, and
often still are, solely responsible for the
construction of family houses. A Maasai house,
known as an enkaji, was a temporary shelter that
was made low to the ground so as to be
inconspicuous on the landscape; given the
nomadic lifestyle of the builders, structures did
not need to last long.
Marisiet Polong drawing water from a
rainwater storage container. Photo: Practical
Action / Simon Ekless.
Projecting into the future
After early involvement as technical advisers, Practical Action’s work in Kajiado district evolved
and grew into a distinct project which became known as the Maasai Housing Project
(MHP). Since 1991, various funders have given financial support which enabled staff:
• to stimulate housing improvements that meet the changing needs of Maasai
• to facilitate the optimum use of local materials and skills in construction;
• to maintain or strengthen the status of women in house building and management and
• to encourage local organisations to develop the capacity to support shelter focused
initiatives within the Maasai community.
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