The community at Kanjoo was formed when people were forced to migrate from congested, more developed settlements. It was an unsafe, undesirable area due to the lack of accessibility and amenities; no roads, no clean water, no schools, no electricity and no access to healthcare or hospitals. However, over time people from many different areas and tribes were forced to settle here.
The village is located in the Meru District, one of the 47 counties of Kenya. It is in the Eastern province, on the outskirts of Meru National Park and close to Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain.
It is home to around 3000 men, women and children and their main source of income is from Miraa farming. However life is still beset with challenges due to lack access to basic amenities.
Today the main tribes living at Kanjoo are The Merians; who are the majority, the Gikuyu, the Kamba & the Luhyia people. Kimeru is the common language spoken amongst the villagers but Kiswahili, the common language of Kenya, is sometimes used if needed.
Homes are mostly made from wood or a mixture of mud and straw, with corrugated iron roofs. There is no running water or electricity. These are all temporary houses which usually only last between 5 and 10 years. With maintenance they can possibly last up to 15 years.
As in any community, there are different types of homes depending on a family’s situation.
Some homes have only one room, where the bed, shared by all family members, is separated by a curtain; a gas hob and a sofa are in the other part of the room. These homes share long drop toilets with their neighbours which can be found in separate structures outside. Beds are generally made from wooden struts covered by blankets in an attempt to soften them.
Other homes include farmsteads, where crops are grown and goats, chickens and cattle are reared. Rooms are built in the same way with separate buildings for the kitchens, bedrooms and long drops. Women cook over an open fire in one of these rooms. Some families do not have beds but sleep on their mud floor.
There is a strong sense of community with many relations, friends and generations living together, helping each other with lodgings, food, farming, childcare, domestic chores and finances.
With the obvious lack of banks or large incomes, some women have set up a Table Top Banking scheme where groups of 10 or more people each put in small amounts of money every month. The money is then borrowed by the members most in need and returned with interest at a later date.
The river that runs through the village is the community's only source of water . This river runs down into the National Park and also feeds other communities further downstream which is a problem when there is so little. The water is used for drinking, irrigation, washing, feeding cattle and for any other daily use. Women and children collect the water in plastic yellow containers which they carry back to their homes.
There are two seasons in Kenya, the wet and the dry. During the wet season, the river flows freely, but during the dry season, there is severe drought and the women and children have to walk up to 5Km a day to collect water.
Even with access to water during the wet season, farmers struggle to irrigate their crops as they do not have the finances to set up rain water collection tanks or to buy pumps to power the water from the river to their farms. Gravity pipes are used in some cases and true to the community spirit, water schemes have been set up to share the flowing water. They have put taps on the pipes so that homes have access to the water on different days of the week.
These two programmes do not service the whole community however and in the words of the Headmaster of the local Primary School, Richard Kimathi, “the majority of the poor and illiterate are left to the mercy of God”.
Due to people drinking directly from the river and streams, waterborne diseases are common but there is no immediate access to healthcare.
The nearest healthcare clinic is 5 Km away and run by unqualified individuals but medications can be bought over the counter. If a hospital admission is needed, a journey to Maua town is made, some 16 Km away. People do not own cars and often do not have money for public transport so access to healthcare is a huge challenge.